Posts Tagged ‘investments’

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

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Stick to Your Knitting or Reinvent Yourself? What’s the Right Answer?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Don't knowIf you focus on what you do best, you’ll prosper. Look at Coca-Cola or Southwest Airlines or Disney.

So, understand your core competencies and stick to your knitting.

Good advice, correct?

But what about companies like Kodak and Nokia? They stayed focused on what they did best. And it really didn’t work so well for them.

So, perhaps it’s not such good advice after all.

My Dad used to say “rules are for the guidance of wise men – and the blind obedience of fools.”

Just because we drop that magic word ‘strategy’ – as in strategic consistency – into a rule, that doesn’t make it an exception to be followed blindly.

Kodak, Nokia, and a host of others like them, did understand their core competencies. But they either didn’t see, couldn’t understand – or simply ignored – a reality.

Something else started going on in their industry that made those core competencies obsolete or insufficient. In Kodak’s case, it was digital photography; in Nokia’s, the advent of the smartphone.

Perhaps a better rule for business owners is to stick to the knitting, but keep looking outside of the company in case something fundamental begins to change.

And as soon as that change becomes evident, begin reinventing – around the capabilities that brought success to the company in the first place.

That’s what Lou Gerstner did at IBM and Andy Grove did at Intel. (Much as I dislike using only large corporate entities for examples in my blog posts, they are usually well enough known for everyone to be aware of them.)

So the reinvention comes from adding new capabilities to the ones that brought success in the first place.

Ken Favaro, who wrote the article, that inspired this post and for whom I have the greatest respect, says that if you do this, you can manage the tension between strategic consistency and reinvention.

Perhaps I’m over simplifying but I see it as using common sense to deal with the changes that have, and always will occur in an industry.

But, as Stephen Covey pointed out, common sense is not that common. And it’s particularly difficult to hang on to it in the face of never ending pressure to make deadlines, maintain quality, fight off competitors, keep staff motivated – and, of course, make the payroll.

 

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

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

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

6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Businesses

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

The 6 things I’m going to talk about come from a study of 149 large, publicly-traded, family-controlled businesses.

However, stay with me because we’ve seen the same characteristics in the successful family-owned businesses we’ve dealt with – and none of them are publicly traded.

Another thing – the study looked at 1997 – 2009, covering some good and some very tough times. Guess what? The family-controlled businesses, on average, turned in better long-term financial performance than non-family businesses – in multiple countries.

So what are the 6 things we can learn?

1. Family-controlled businesses are frugal in good times and bad. How? They don’t, for example, have luxurious offices. That’s because they view the company’s money as the family’s money – and so keep a tight rein on all expenses.

2. They limit their debt. The family-controlled companies in the study had, on average, debt levels equal to 37% of their capital (compared to 47% for non-family firms). Why, because if something goes wrong, family businesses don’t want to risk giving their investors too much power.

3. They have lower staff turnover. Only 9% of the workforce (versus 11% at non-family firms) turned over annually. And family firms don’t rely on financial incentives. They focus on building a culture of commitment and purpose, avoid layoffs during downturns, promote from within, and spend far more on training than non-family firms.

4. Capital expenditures are tightly controlled. One owner-CEO said “We have a simple rule, we do not spend more than we earn.” Family businesses not only look at each project’s ROI, they compare projects – to meet their self-imposed budget. It costs them some opportunities but means they’re less exposed in bad times.

5. They diversify. 46% of family businesses in the study were highly diversified, while only 20% of publicly traded ones were. The reason – diversification has become a key way to protect family wealth as recessions have become deeper and more frequent.

6. But they do fewer, smaller, acquisitions. There are exceptions, for example if there’s structural change/disruption in their industry. But generally, family companies prefer organic growth and partnerships or joint ventures to acquisitions.

The simplicity of the 6 things makes them easy for any business owner to implement.

There were 7 things mentioned in the study but the seventh, that family-controlled companies generate more of their sales abroad, applies less to the companies we work with. So I can’t talk to it from personal experience.

By the way, the study’s conclusion is that CEOs of family-controlled firms invest with a longer time horizon in mind and manage their downside more than their upside, unlike most CEOs, who try to make their mark through outperformance.

All because their obligation to family makes them concentrate on what they can do now to benefit the next generation.

You can read the full study, which was conducted by The Boston Consulting Group, here.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 5 Tips To Improve Margins and the Bottom Line……

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Physician Heal Thyself

Monday, September 13th, 2010

We’ve just finished the business planning session for our fiscal year which started 1 Jul 10, using the same tools and processes we use with our clients. But it’s so much easier when you’re telling someone else what to do.

The first thing was that we were late getting started. So we immediately broke one of our own cardinal rules – get next year’s plan in place before the end of the current fiscal year. This is something we preach relentlessly to the business owners we work with.

We had done all of the regular quarterly reviews of last year’s plan giving us, under some circumstances, a pretty good starting point for this year. For about a nano second I was tempted just to roll things forward.

But last year was our best year ever and the business had grown in some interesting new directions. Also, we hadn’t taken a look at our 5 year goals during the quarterly reviews. Rather than break another rule, we decided to do a full analysis and went through the lot – target market; competitive evaluation; product and service offering; pricing strategy etc.

So we set some dates on which we’d work through the steps – and then proceeded to change them, pushing them out. Well, I heard myself say, we can’t let day-to-day operations slip, there’s client work to be done; we can’t miss those deadlines. And a little voice asked “Hmmm, where have you heard that before?”

While we were figuring out where we had to be in 3 years’ time that voice in my head was back. At first I couldn’t believe it – that can’t be me. But it was – I’d slipped from consultant into business owner mode. I had to have a stern talk to myself – “Come on Jim, be realistic, where’s your objectivity?”

Going through the gap analysis and figuring out what had to be done was relatively easy. But when we got to prioritization and looking at the investments we had to make I actually broke into a cold sweat at one point.

Then I thought – I’ve done this dozens of times, what’s the problem; this isn’t nearly as difficult when we do it for other companies! The answer was really simple – it was my baby (I mean company); it was my future (I mean retirement plan); it was my money we were risking (for those nasty investments).

To make a long story short, we finished the planning process and identified 5 strategic initiatives I am convinced will take us to the next level. The action plans are in place and being worked on even as I write this. We made some minor adjustments but we confirmed again, from our own experience, that the process we use with other companies works.

And I promise to be more understanding with other business owners in the future!

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