Posts Tagged ‘competitors’

Recommended Reading – Summer 2015

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Saying strategy is dead is a sweeping generalization.4 more reasons why strategy isn't dead

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 completely is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Two articles which appeared recently, one in the Globe and Mail and an earlier article in Forbes magazine, laid out 7 reasons why strategy is, or may be, dead.

Last week I commented on the first 3 reasons, here are my thoughts on the other 4.

4.  Competitive lines have dissolved. Strategy, it is argued, has long been based on well-defined market sectors, containing established competitors. Now a competitor is likely to come from an entirely different sector.

But is this a new phenomenon? Didn’t IBM, under Lou Gerstner, become an IT solutions provider?

5.  Information has gone from scarcity to abundancy. It is argued that the value of strategic planners and consultants lay in the proprietary, or scarce, information they possessed. Today, information is easily accessed via the web.

Commenting on this point one of the authors of the 2 articles said “It’s …….how you translate that information into actionable activities that is critical”. Isn’t that what strategy execution was – and still is – all about?

6.  It is very difficult to forecast (option values). Before opening a new factory, expected costs were compared to forecast revenues to see if it was a good investment. But, it’s argued, the outcomes of investments in, for example, the Internet of Things are wild guesses at best. Is this new? We’ve had to make educated (not wild) guesses about the unknown for years, e.g. the development of the Boeing 747, the world’s first jumbo jet.

7.  Large scale execution is trumped by rapid transactional learning. In the past, organizations could roll out improvement programs in a deliberate, staged fashion over a number of years. These days, it’s a whirlwind, and you must be learning all the time.

Recently I wrote about Rita McGrath’s book ‘The End Of Competitive Advantage’, which profiles 10 large, publicly-traded corporations that have found ways to combine internal stability with tremendous external flexibility and achieved remarkable results.

Have they abandoned strategy? No.

If whales can do it, so can minnows.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

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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

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

Guaranteed.

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

Interested?

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

Is “Crushing The Competition” A Strategy?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Saying you’re going to crush the competition may provide the emotional fire to drive a sales team to beat its short-term revenue targets.It is possible to win without crushing the competition.

But as a strategy for the whole business, it’s not only ineffective, it’s dangerous.

Here’s why.

1.  It puts the focus in the wrong place.

A successful strategy focuses on customer needs; the value proposition with which the company satisfies those needs; and the resources and capabilities required to deliver it.

Trying to crush the competition puts the focus on doing things “better” than they do.

It puts competitors, not customers, front and centre. It substitutes action based on original thinking, with reaction to someone else’s thinking.

2.  It sacrifices the long term for the short term.

Two common tactics for crushing the competition are providing more features for the same price and cutting prices.

However neither of them creates new value for customers, nor do they help the company’s long-term margins.

Businesses reap the biggest rewards when their strategies provide previously unrealized value for consumers and users by, for example, introducing new, or enhanced, products or services.

That, however, takes time and the willingness to take risk. It may also open up new parts of the market for everyone.

The iPhone, for example, didn’t just help Apple, it broadened the market for mobile devices. Fracking not only breathed new life into the U.S. oil and gas industry, it benefitted suppliers to the industry.

3.  Business isn’t like war.

Originally, strategy had its application in winning battles and wars. And the only way to win is to beat the other side; the more crushing the defeat inflicted on the loser, the better.

But in business, it is possible to win without crushing the competition.

How? By finding an untapped opportunity. For example, Starbucks redefined the coffee drinking experience and Jet Blue redefined discount travel.

In order to do that, both had to understand their competitors’ value propositions – a more productive, more effective, even healthier, way to deal with competitors.

I’m not suggesting that competitors can be ignored – but they have to be kept in context.

4.  Emotion replaces logic.

Finally, when leaders go to war with their competitors, emotion often overwhelms business logic. If it can happen to Steve Jobs – remember the repercussions from iMaps – it can happen to anyone.

In case you’re curious about what set me off on this particular rant, it was a post by Ken Favaro, one of my favourite writers on strategy.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Putting The Horse Before The Cart – That’s 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

3 Reasons Growth Slows In Good Companies

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

It caught my attention immediately.Periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable, even in solid companies

A blog post about why successful companies stop growing. A topic I was tempted, only last week, to call an obsession.

While the examples Ron Ashkenas uses are all large corporations, it really doesn’t matter.

The points he makes apply equally well to business owners and family businesses.

Ashkenas argues that periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable – even for solid companies. That doesn’t mean that business owners and their management teams can’t do anything to slow the decline or to reverse it quickly.

First, however, they have to understand the 3 forces that Ashkenas says always slow down high-flying companies. Here they are.

1.  The Law of Large Numbers

When revenues are $5 million, targeting annual growth of 20% means adding $1 million to the top line. When they’re $50 million, chasing 20% growth means adding $10 million in sales in 12 months.

It takes significantly more resources to support $10 million in new sales than it does to add $1 million. And some of them, e.g. people with the skills and experience required, can’t always be found quickly and easily.

Then there’s the size and growth rate of the market. If it’s $100 million and growing quickly, adding $1 million in sales means taking, at most, 1% more market share. However, adding $10 million in a mature or declining market means getting 10% more market share – and that probably means taking it away from competitors.

2.  Market Maturity

When a market turns hot, competitors multiply like mosquitos. That limits the potential for price increases, which are a relatively easy way to increase revenues.

Some companies build stronger brand loyalty than others, slowing the ability of the weaker competitors to grow. Some products become commoditized, price becomes king and margins become thin, affecting bottom line growth.

Eventually markets become saturated and the bigger, stronger players either gobble up the weaker ones or force them out.

3.  Psychological Self-Protection

Ashkenas describes this as pressure to maintain the base business and unwillingness to risk it with innovative new products.

In the companies we’ve worked with, it often appears in a different form (and perhaps deserves a different name). As these companies grow, the management team spends more and more time focusing on meeting the increasing demand while maintaining quality. This is often caused by weak processes, lack of discipline and lack of accountability.

In both cases, however, management is the cause of the declining growth.

No company grows forever without hitting some bumps along the way. The challenge for the business owner is to recognize what’s really going on and to deal with it.

Sometimes it takes an external, third party to be able to do that.

You can read Ron Ashkenas’ full post here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? and Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? – Part 2.

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Entrepreneurs Lack Empathy – Really?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

A new study reveals entrepreneurs, business owners lack empathy and analytical problem-solving skills.4 key skills entrepreneurs lack including empathy

Is this just telling us what we already know?

Most importantly, from my selfish point of view, how does this affect the way in which they approach strategy?

Apparently, there are 2 reasons why entrepreneurs are below the norm when it comes to analytical problem-solving. They’re motivated by, for example, potential future gains, money and new products or ideas. And they have a sense of urgency when it comes to making decisions.

So they don’t “have time” to collect and analyze data and, because people who tell them their ideas won’t work use numbers to do so, they think numbers just get in the way.

That easily translates into impatience with the strategy development process. Which may be OK in those cases where the business owner’s knowledge of an industry, or a gap in a market, gives them an almost intuitive sense of what to do to win.

However it could explain why some businesses have early successes and then begin to fail. There comes a point where figuring out what the industry, the market, the competitors are doing and the correct sales/marketing and operations/delivery response gets too complex to be done “on the fly”.

And I didn’t even touch on hiring the right skills, acquiring the necessary resources and building a healthy culture, etc. – or how to finance those activities.

Two other skills entrepreneurs lack are self-management and planning and organizing. Reading the post describing the research, the difference between the two blurred a little for me.

A couple of phrases did strike a chord though.

For example, “entrepreneurs typically have many projects underway at one time…. need assistance managing everyday tasks and should… delegate them to someone who has mastered this skill.” The Action Plans, which are developed at annual business planning sessions, play a key part in the successful execution of a strategy.

Making sure they’re completed requires consistent, regular follow up with the Champion. It also requires empathy, which is required to be understanding and supportive when things go wrong and deadlines slip. This helps get the Action Plans back on track.

Will knowing the extent to which entrepreneurs and business owners lack these 4 skills make it easier for those affected to accept solutions?

Based on my 16 years of experience working with business owners and entrepreneurs I’d have to give the typical consultants’ answer – yes and no.

Some individuals – the ones who realize they have to change in order for their companies to grow – get it. And some don’t.

But that’s human nature.

You can find the full blog post with the results of the study here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Where Do The People Fit?

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

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

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

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

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

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

Cannonballs first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now email………

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

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

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

We hear this all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, anything else………..

The metaphor has wide application.

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

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

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

Any thoughts?

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

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3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

We all do things that are crazy.

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

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

But that would be just plain wrong.

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

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

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

Here are three occasions.

1.    When the company has outgrown its strategy.

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

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

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

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

2.    Significant internal change.

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

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

3.    Significant external change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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