Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sense of Urgency

From this article on Apple:

"This is really bad," Cook told the group. "Someone should be in China driving this." Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, without a trace of emotion, "Why are you still here?"

Khan, who remains one of Cook's top lieutenants to this day, immediately stood up, drove to San Francisco International Airport, and, without a change of clothes, booked a flight to China with no return date, according to people familiar with the episode.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Kill First, Investigate Later

The controller in one of my clients is originally from Mexico.

At a management off-site the other day, when discussing leadership styles, he explained that in Mexico they have a saying, born from years of brutal leadership - "kill first and investigate later". It was pretty funny.

We've all seen companies where that's the leadership style. Something goes wrong. Shoot somebody.

It's highly ineffective. It just about guarantees that no one in the organization but the leader will make a decision or take action. Progress, trust, teamwork, initiative are pretty much all out the window in those organizations.

Lots has been written about how organizations and employees have changed...about the lack of loyalty shown by either side any more.

It's true.

I still find it bothersome based on years of observation, how acceptable and easy firing one, several, many employees has become. OK fine, the business is well managed, the bottom falls out for whatever reason and survival is at stake - then I get it. I've been there.

But too often what I observe is that's not the case. Hirings are done poorly and without proper planning. Lack of training ensures the employee never reaches their potential. Strategic planning and day to day leadership are haphazard. The organization staggers from trouble spot to trouble spot. And employees get shot.

When companies are hiring, if they know what they're doing and to avoid mistakes, they do their homework on the potential hire.

Employees jumping to new organizations should do the same.

Sure the job sounds great but do some research! Find out what the leadership style is. Find out how the company is managed. Figure out what people in the organization think about their organization.

Here's a simple tactic - don't take the job without interviewing at least 3 people in the company at or below the job level being considered.

Get on Linkedin. Hook up with past employees.

Sure it's a pain, but it could save some serious job grief down the road.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Perfect Gift for my Wife?....

....or good way to die?




Hot Buy Pandigtal KTC 4-in-1 Device w/Bonus Preloaded Bon Appetite Recipe Collection

As we melt down...

A friend of mine in the US wrote the following letter to the editor.

Dear Sir:

The debate about whether or not to bail out the Big 3 very quickly gets around to the issue of the merits of bailing out “lousy companies like GM” even as be bail out “great companies like Citi Bank and Bank of America.”

It is hard to defend a company whose market share has be halved in the last 20 years and is clearly on the way to bankruptcy without external help. But “a lousy company?” Let’s think for a second about what it takes to produce a successful car.

Five years before launch, the marketers need to anticipate consumer desires, competitive offerings, the regulatory environment and the price of gas. Then the product development engineers and designers get involved with everything from power plant choice to body shape to number of cup holders required. Once they come up with something everyone likes, the production, manufacturing and sourcing people get really busy. As launch date approaches, sales and marketing revs up again to build a little buzz and and hopefully get off to a fast start, despite automotive writers’ blatant attraction to expensive foreign vehicles. A successful car needs to look good, feel good, work well, have almost no quality issues either initially or for the the first few years and of course has to evoke the right emotions.

Banks by comparison need to do three things well to be successful. They need to convince people to deposit their money. For that there is and always has been FDIC (government) help. They need to convince people to borrow. For that there is interest deductibility and other incentives. The third and final requirement is properly assessing credit risk.

US car companies have gotten it right much more often than wrong lately, although the often subsidized foreign competition keeps raising the bar.

Banks on the other hand seem to have difficulties executing more than two out of three fundamental tasks.

Might it be that we are being overly critical of the wrong industry?

My friend notes that merely asking "are you good for this money - prove it" - would have gone a long ways to avoiding the melt down that's underway. That way school teachers wouldn't have been owning $2 million homes and driving Mercedes.

Good news here. Canadian banks always have and still do (according to another friend who just renewed his mortgage) ask that.

I wonder if that will make any difference now?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Inward Focused Business....

...is reactive. Fights amongst itself. Meets too much. Hires the wrong people. Has too much gossip. Makes bad decisions. Makes no decisions. Forgets why it's in business. Loses confidence. Gets bad results.

The outward focused business knows who its customers are. Understands what its customers are looking for. Exceeds its customer's expectations.

The outward focused business knows how to sell.

The outward focused business has confidence.

The outward focused business is proactive.

The outward focused business gets results.

The outward focused business is a better place to work.

Going from being an inward focused business to an outward focused business isn't difficult.

It's a mindset shift. Starting at the top.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GM....Just Wondering?

Last week I got an interesting email from my GM dealer. All it had was the title: Polite Service Reminder. My reaction: what a nice, polite service reminder. I was impressed...although given how polite it was, I naturally chose to ignore it.

Then, yesterday something happened that's never happened before. The information center in the middle of my Enclave's dash was ablaze with warnings that my left rear...and right front, tire pressures needed checking.

You know if it had been one or the other, I might have fallen for it - but both at once, out of the blue....hmmmm. I checked. They were both fine.

And when I drove home in the evening, the warnings had stopped.

Then, last night I got a VOICE MAIL FROM GM telling me to take my car in for service.

You'd have to be in a coma to know GM is likely only days away from going down - which is probably as good a reason as any for getting my car serviced - but has it come to this? Is GM attempting to force its customers into dealers for service so they can pick up a bit of extra cash?

I never thought about it, but given that OnStar sends me monthly emails with my tire pressure and lots of other information, I presume manipulating my tire pressure warning system isn't too far fetched? Is that possible?

Will I take GM down if I don't get my car serviced?

If they do go down, will I ever be able to get my car serviced again?

Just wondering.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Applying the Blue Ocean Strategy



'Blue Ocean Strategy' is a book written by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

It's good. Like a lot of strategy books, it has useful tools for strategizing and visualizing strategies.

The key thrust of Blue Ocean Strategy is that there are two strategy streams - red ocean strategies for companies competing head-on in existing market spaces (strategy for losers) - and blue ocean strategies for recreating the market space and avoiding competition all together (where real winners come from).

Cirque du Soleil, Canada's circus theater company, is used as a center-piece example. Flush the expensive elephants and tigers, develop a theme, move to multiple venues in Vegas, jack the ticket prices and....voila - the non-circus, circus that's very, very successful.

When I come across intriguing new concepts like this, I like to try them on simple stuff (perhaps the only stuff) I know.

Like me.

This really isn't what the authors of the book had in mind when they wrote the book. They were thinking businesses, not people. But why not? I have a business.

Applying the Blue Ocean strategy to me the consultant and executive coach was a little confusing. Where I seemed to net out is that I probably need to up the process a bit, move to Africa and dye my hair blue. You'll see any changes in my updated profile.

Given the success of defining my own strategy better, I decided to move on to stuff I know way more about - other people's strategies. Like CEO's....keeping in mind that some of my best friends are CEO's.

The Blue Ocean Strategy goes like this.

First, define the key characteristics that make up the existing strategies for this 'industry'.

I defined the key characteristics of the CEO industry this way:

  • brains
  • determination
  • empathy
  • creativity
  • vision
  • management skills
  • focus
  • common sense
  • salary
  • perks
  • friend who's a recruiter
I forgot attention to detail, but it doesn't matter. There never is any.

Then, these elements are mapped on a strategy canvas. Like this.


Next, if you're an individual CEO (or business), you'd map your own 'strategy canvas'.

Let's take Jane, a hypothetical CEO.



Jane has:
  • lots brains (see Jane on Jeopardy)
  • lots of determination (see Jane work 20 hour days)
  • big salary (see Jane drive a BMW)
  • strong empathy (see Jane differentiate herself)
  • modest creativity (see Jane surround herself with 24 year olds)
  • OK management skills (ding, ding, ding)
  • zero focus (see Jane multi-task)
  • no common sense (see Jane blow-up)
  • a very good recruiter friend (see Jane run e-Bay)
You see, it's possible that Jane has already done this exercise and figured out where the real leverage is! Recruiter friend.

But, if Jane were to keep going, what else could she do to come up with a Blue Ocean Strategy for herself and escape the reaches of those other CEO types?

According to Kim and Mauborgne, Jane would figure out the following:
  • what factor the CEO industry takes for granted that should be eliminated (like Cirque's tigers and elephants)
  • what factors to reduce way below the industry standard (like the circus' fun, humor, thrills, danger)
  • what factors to raise way above the industry standards (Cirque's unique venues)
  • what factors to create, that the industry has never offered (Cirque's themes)
In Jane's case:
  • the industry takes for granted that Jane will get a big salary; Jane could eliminate that and be compensated purely for performance
  • Jane could reduce the following factors way below industry standards: her vision and other perks
  • Jane could raise the following above industry standards: her focus, management skills and common sense
  • Jane could create the following that the industry has never offered: accountability.

Jane could be FANTASTIC.

She could be a CONSULTANT.

With apologies to my CEO friends (and the authors) tools like this take time to use right. I'm not there yet. I've tried in real business situations also.

I'm working on it. When I get there, I'm going to develop a Blue Ocean Strategy, for strategy.

Treading Lightly

Yesterday I got a thank you card in the mail from an employee at one my clients. It was very thoughtful. Being appreciated is always a good feeling.

The card itself is kind of unique.



Here's some insight on the founder of Borealis.

Mark Baldwin, who started The Borealis Press, had a fair amount of experience in journalism, design, building houses, and operating a saw mill. One of his wooden bathtubs is owned by the Smithsonian Institution. He designed a "honeylog" that was credited with keeping captive bears from going crazy. But he knew nothing, zero, about greeting cards. Mark originated the photograph-and-quote card design, and runs the company, with a whole lot of help.

....journalism, design, building houses and operating a sawmill. That's my kind of resume.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One more way...

...the web is changing the world.

Meet Dave Meet SlideShare
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: meethenry funding)

Business according to Mr. Google

Here's a decent video interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Not sure there are any big ah-has...which is alright.

His comment on the Longtail...that the internet makes the head even more important isn't new.... but it is worth keeping in mind.

Also, as a management consultant and observer of many different organization cultures, Schmidt's comments on management make me smile. First, that you need a leader to enforce deadlines in the group - "otherwise you have university". Second, that you need dissent - "otherwise you have a king". Simple, good insight.

Here's the link.

Friday, November 7, 2008

got a chance today...

...to hang out with a US lawyer who campaigned in Virginia for Obama then did poll duty the night of the election. I guess hopefully we all get a chance once in our lifetime to play a role in something both historic and overwhelmingly satisfying. To say she was proud and happy would be a fairly significant understatement. She said what struck her about the Obama organizers was their tactical precision. She said that in the days leading up to the election they didn't canvass houses - they canvassed perfectly targeted individuals - leaning McOldGuy but not committed. She also described the feeling of going into non-white neighbourhoods and getting overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses from people when they found out she was campaigning for Obama. Turn-out in her precinct? Over 80%!!! Here's a link to her blog.

.....to have a beer with a thoughtful, successful market watcher and stock picker. He has a theory on the market downturn that feels logical. According to him, the market bottom will occur only after the North American auto industry takes its hit - a hit which is clearly coming. Merger? Bailout? Bankruptcy? Get that done, get the headlines out of the way, absorb some of the fall-out - then we'll be at the bottom. Hmmmm....I think he's onto something.

...to make full use of local search on my Blackberry. Stuck in stopped-dead traffic. Pouring rain. Looking for a hotel....and finding one, plus phone number, plus dialing and connecting in about 90 seconds. Damn, the world has changed...and maybe even for the better.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Business is simple....

....it's people who make business complicated" is the tagline I attach to my email signature. Through it, I'm attempting to draw attention to this blog, and more importantly to one of the fundamental truths I observe every day doing this job.

How simple is business?

Provide a product or service that people want.
Do it well enough that it can be sold for a decent margin.
Market the hell out of it.

That's business.


Don't have a product or service that people want? Why buy?
Don't do it well enough to make a decent margin. Good bye .
Don't bother marketing the hell out of it. Drive by.

It's not that complicated.


So what's stopping so many businesses from achieving the success they desire?

People.

People who don't know strategy. People who can't execute strategy. People who can't focus. People who can't see the big picture. People who have all the answers. People who are afraid of the answers. People who can't follow. People who can't lead. People in the wrong roles. People in the wrong business. People who hate coming to work. People who hate going home. People.....

It's complicated.

Success in business is all about the people. The skills, the leadership, the mentorship, the accountability, the tough decision making, the communication, the motivation, the pulling together of huge diversity to achieve a common goal.

It's not so simple. But it can be simplified.

How do you know you have a product or service that people want? Do some research. Never lose sight of your competition.

How do you do it well enough to make a decent margin? Through leadership and hiring - never compromise on knowledge and skills.

And marketing the hell out of it? By being where your customers are in a way that your competition isn't.

There are two keys to success on the people side - talent and clarity.

From there, the rest is simple.

Please....get it right today...

...make it an obvious win, with no disenfranchised voters, no hanging chads, no Supreme Court Decisions.....Just let it be done.