Posts Tagged ‘decision-making’

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


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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!

Can Strategic Planning Pay Off?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

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

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

But, regrettably, it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the full article here.


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

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

Use These 3 Tips To Make Your Next Critical Decision

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

I am a Libra; my astrological sign is the balancing scales. I don’t, however, believe in astrology.Weighing all the factors when making critical decisions

On the other hand, I do tend to see both sides of an argument.

Which can make decision-making interesting for me. So, I read articles about it.

I saw one the other day which featured Ram Charan¹  who co-wrote “Execution”, one of my favourite books on strategy.

He’s been working with accomplished business leaders for almost 30 years, watching them making some really difficult decisions.

Charan says they do 3 things when faced with a critical decision.

  1. First they focus on the end goal. They are very clear and specific about what has to be achieved. There is no ambiguity in their thinking.
  2. They consider all of the options or alternatives. They do not hesitate to think “outside the box” using their imagination and creativity, but temper the results with pragmatism.
  3. Then they go and get different points of view. Why, because critical decisions often deal with complex issues and the business world can move very quickly now. Getting diverse input helps them see as many aspects of a situation as possible.

Having done that, they use their judgment to focus on the 2 or 3 most important factors affecting the decision. Finally they think through the consequences of their decision. And come up with contingency plans to deal with them.

Of course they do these things simultaneously and complete the process relatively quickly.

The important point is that none of these steps are beyond the ability of the average business owner. A trait that entrepreneurs have to guard against, however, is the temptation to skip the third step – even when they’ve grown their companies to a point where they’ve hired a management team.

And, by the way, when I think I’ve looked at both sides of an argument for long enough, I recall advice I was given many, many years ago. A good decision is commendable; a bad decision is regrettable; but no decision at all is unforgivable.

Then I just do it.

¹ “What the Best Decision Makers Do”, HBR Blog Network, 24 Oct 13


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 4 Decision-Making Tips for Business Owners

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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 Techniques For Removing Bias From The Big Decisions

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Much has been written over the last year about the biases that get in the way of decision-making.3 practical ways to prevent bias affecting strategy decisions

Many of the articles or posts describe, and provide examples of, these biases. But they’re often short on how to avoid them.

So, when I saw one that provided 3 very practical ways to prevent bias affecting strategy decisions, it quickly got my attention.

I disagree with some of the points made – for example, I don’t discount the value of intuition or your gut.

In fact, we tell the business owners we work with never to ignore them. But we also say that, rather than base a critical decision solely on those alone, they must be supported by objective analysis and data.

I do, however, like the 3 techniques.

1.   Make decision rules before you’re faced with the decision. It’s much easier to be objective when the decision that has to be made is still an intellectual concept. For example, Intel devised a rule for allocating their limited production capacity. Its use by the production team meant that successful new generation products were automatically allocated more capacity than maturing products. This happened regardless of senior management’s bias toward the mature products because they helped build the company.

2.   Use the collective wisdom of the team. This is a variation of the adage “2 heads are better than 1” and using decision rules. It is most effectively used with decisions which will have a major negative impact on the company if they are wrong. For example, investing a large amount of money to manufacture or otherwise support a new product or market or making an acquisition. Using a process to draw input from the members of the team, from all areas of the company, with most direct, relevant experience lifts the burden from the shoulders solely of the owner or the management team.

3.   The revolving door. A variation of the “Man from Mars” approach, this technique asks the question “If we were replaced by new owners, or a new management team, what would they do?” Figure out the answer, and then figuratively go out through the revolving door, come back in, and do that.

It’s really hard to keep emotion and your personal preferences out of decisions. We all subconsciously allow them to creep in – we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. You can read the full article here.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Focus, Simplicity and Common Sense…...

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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

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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Strategies That Get Results Are Developed By Thinkers And Doers

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The companies we work with are less complex organizations than those in the Fortune 500.Include strategy developers in the execution process for better results

But our clients can experience the same types of problems that the big guys face.

Here’s an example.

A gap between the thinkers and the doers

I read this week about the gap that exists in large corporations because the people who develop strategy aren’t the ones who have to execute it.

In most of the companies we work with, a gap like this shouldn’t exist. However, it does occur in some.

In this case the gap is not caused by the separation of responsibility for developing and executing strategy. It’s caused by a strategy development process that isn’t sufficiently inclusive.

In our clients, the business owner is responsible for both developing strategy and ensuring that it’s executed.

Arguably, everyone else is responsible only for execution. And their responsibility is very often limited to only the parts of the strategy that directly affect them.

The owner can:

a)  develop the strategy by him or herself, or

b)  involve her/his management team, or

c)  involve the management team and key players from all parts of the company.

In the companies we work with, the gap occurs when the owner opts only for alternative a) or b).

Disadvantages of having a gap

There are several disadvantages of excluding key players.

•  They are the people who have been intimately involved in executing all of the strategies that have been developed in their past, either with their current employer or in other companies. As a result, they know what is involved in making a strategy work, in getting results. They can provide valuable input at the development stage, even nipping impractical strategies in the bud before time and resources are wasted on them.

•  If the key players understand the reasoning and logic behind a strategy it will help them make the right decisions and best choices when circumstances change (as always they do) during implementation.

•  People are more committed to a course of action when they’ve had a part in developing it. So the key players are more likely to keep persisting in the face of difficulty.

An example of how to prevent the gap

One of our clients had a workforce of 300 unionized employees, spread across the Province. When it came time to renew the strategy, the General Manager invited 10% of the workforce to participate in the process.

The representatives, chosen by their teammates, were expected to represent their areas in the sessions and to provide feedback when they went back to work units.

The quality of the input the representatives brought with them and the value they added to the discussion and debate was quite remarkable.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 5 Reasons Why I Love Execution

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