Why strategy needs to be specific…

20 09 2011

Today’s Dilbert strip hit on a couple of key thoughts, albeit in traditional Dilbert fashion…

This is a pretty simplistic, yet sadly realistic, manner in which we define corporate agendas.  We lay out a concept and expect the organization to translate our words into action.  What happens is that often the definition is fuzzy, which allows for all sorts of interpretation and a watering down of execution.

While a little nitpicky here, Increasing Market Share is a goal, not a strategy.  Why does this matter?  The primary reason is that we need to teach the organization to think along common lines. We need to communicate specificity – tell people exactly what we want.  The goal is to increase market share by 5%, and we are going to do this by increasing new product revenues by 10% and by $4mil in cross selling opportunities to our customer base.

Additionally, every company is striving for the same four things – Increase Revenues, Improve Profit Margin, Elevate Market Share, and Enhance Financial Health.  It is how we balance these four items that sets us apart from our competition, and how we tell the organization what matters.  Will we sacrifice a launch date and potentially our 3rd quarter revenue goal if a product is offline?  Will we bend over backwards to keep a customer from defecting?  Will we sacrifice margin for a new customer in a new market?  The company must know the trade off equation as most decisions impact something else.  Without understanding this, people make decisions based on what they want, not what the company wants.

Ask yourself how deep your organization understands its goals?  And then compare it to how specific the goals, strategies, and tactics are for the organization? If there is a gap, start somewhere and be very specific of what you want.  Changing the culture to be more specific is not all that difficult.





Strategy & Operational Performance Management Survey

21 07 2011

If you have a moment, take a few seconds to fill out a survey.  I’ll post some of the more relevant survey results here over time. Basically 7 questions and a place to fill in your answer if you want to share more.

Link to survey





Research in Motion’s public battle

5 07 2011

When executives feel they have to go outside of a chain of command in order to voice concerns, we see perfect examples of the need for Operational Performance Management (OPM).  The current Research in Motion public battle is a great place to start.  An anonymous executive sent an open letter to Jonathan Geller, of The Boy Genius (BGR.com), to call out the current RIM culture.  What is more entertaining about this is the fact that RIM responds publicly, which only makes this sound like a bigger problem.

Highlights of the RIM letter:

  • You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.
  • We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice — the end user doesn’t care. We simply have to admit that Apple is nailing this and it is one of the reasons they have people lining up overnight at stores around the world, and products sold out for months. These people aren’t hypnotized zombies, they simply love beautifully designed products that are user centric and work how they are supposed to work.
  • Teams still aren’t talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind. We are demotivated.
  • Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.
  • We simply must stop shipping incomplete products that aren’t ready for the end user. It is hurting our brand tremendously. It takes guts to not allow a product to launch that may be 90% ready with a quarter end in sight, but it will pay off in the long term.
  • The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are. Even our closest dev partners do their best to say it politely, but they will never bite the hand that feeds them.
  • 25 million iPad users don’t care that it doesn’t have Flash or true multitasking, so why make that a focus in our campaigns? I’ll answer that for you: it’s because that’s all that differentiates our products and its lazy marketing. I’ve never seen someone buy product B because it has something product A doesn’t have. People buy product B because they want and lust after product B.
  • RIM has a lot of people who underperform but still stay in their roles. No one is accountable. Where is the guy responsible for the 9530 software? Still with us, still running some important software initiative. We will never achieve excellence with this culture. Just because someone may have been a loyal RIM employee for 7 years, it doesn’t mean they are the best Manager / Director / VP for that role.
  • However, overconfidence clouds good decision-making. We missed not boldly reacting to the threat of iPhone when we saw it in January over four years ago. We laughed and said they are trying to put a computer on a phone, that it won’t work.
  • Reach out to all employees asking them on how we can make RIM better. Encourage input from ground-level teams—without repercussions—to seek out honest feedback and really absorb it.

All of these are examples of what happens in almost every business culture I have witnessed.  It is certainly not unique to RIM. If you think this is not happening within your business you are sorely mistaken.

What can you do….

  • Foster honest discussions.  Stop punishing those who do not follow the company line. Reward critical thought.  Ask people to do their homework prior to the meetings.
  • Listen.  Tap into the collective intelligence of the organization.  1,000 eyes see a lot.
  • Act out.  Stress your opinion if you have a dissenting idea.If you love your company and passionate about what you do, chances are your opinions probably do matter.




Obesity in the US

29 04 2011

This is again perhaps a little off topic for me, but it does pose some really interesting strategic points for consideration…

The cigarette of today’s generation is fast food, sodas, and poor eating habits in general.  Obesity in the US is projected to be about 20% of our annual health spending – or roughly $350 billion (USA Today) by 2018.  This means the number will double from 10% of the spending to 20% by 2018.  Food related deaths account for more than half of our causes of death (CDC) and we focus very little attention to it.  And for the first time in decades the US life expectancy is projected to decline by 5 years (National Institute of Health) with this generation.

So from the viewpoint of Strategy, this poses a wild number of potentials.  Depending upon your industry this either opens you to a tremendous opportunity, or a concerning level of risk.

Opportunities:

  • Food industry – being an early mover to healthier versions of your food may attract more customers
  • Education – providing content for school, churches, communities, etc may open more doors for you
  • Healthcare – with increasing costs, providers that can target care to show health gains with children, or keep their clients healthier may see improved demand for their products while at the same time controller their costs.
  • Marketing – Branding your self as a healthy alternative
  • HR – being seen as a healthier employer may improve your retainment and attraction to new employees.  You may also see a reduction in your health care costs over time.

Risks:

  • Fast food – This entire industry may be about to come under ever increasing levels of attack.  The attacks will likely be on menu, ingredients, nutritional labeling, and potentially lawsuits.
  • Sports drinks – As parents become more aware of the level of sugar in these drinks, demand is certainly at risk.  As one of their core segments is children, it is also possible that even the marketing placement will be called into question.
  • Education – As Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution has clearly pointed out, he is certainly targeting the school system menu.  Once the parents get involved school district lunch menus will likely need to change dramatically.
  • Healthcare – spiraling costs will force most healthcare companies to make very difficult decisions to remain profitable.

Here is Jamie Oliver’s presentation on TED.

Here you can see the growing obesity problem in the us (CDC).





Changing Market Place

7 04 2011

Yesterday in the NYTimes was a story about the speed of the changing U.S. race demographic.  As our demographic changes, so will tastes and demand.  Many companies have sat atop their markets feeling they are invincible, yet with these changes many of the companies will find out much too late that they were not as solid as they once felt.

Have you asked yourself any of the following:

  • What percent of our clients come from the majority?
  • Do we have products that meet demands from all sectors?
  • Are we at risk if the legislature, or governing boards, can their ethnicity over time?
  • Where are our biggest threats in this new market?
  • Where are our greatest advantages?
  • What else can we do to capture more in this changing market?
  • Where might new competitors come after our market?

If you are not strategically discussing questions like these, then you elevate your risk of something happening to undermine your position within your market.

 





Zombie Initiatives and Tasks

5 01 2011

Over the holidays I heard a story on Zombie Processes.  It reminded me of the number of these I have come across in business.  One of the luxuries of being a consultant is you get to ask “why do you do that” or better yet “what would happen if you didn’t do that anymore”.  As businesses grow and scale we often pick up a number of new initiatives, or increase the subtasks, and never kill off old ones.  We also inherit more and more “stuff” that people do that does not necessarily add value.

Zombies: A Zombie initiative/task is something that continues on because no one has done the favor of saying it is either over or complete.  It can also be a task that exists that no longer needs to exist.   Basically it is inefficient effort and time.

Do these exist in your organization? Absolutely and everywhere.  The key is not trying to fix them all at once – this will get you nowhere.  What makes the most sense is to identify your strategic goals and initiatives and start with the processes that support those goals.

Where do you start? Take a look at your critical initiatives across the organization.  Ask yourself which ones are going to provide the most strategic value over the next 12 months.  Pick 3 and define the value of those initiatives.  Are they about increasing/decreasing time, revenue growth, cost cutting, elevating customer value?  Figure out how improvements should be measured.  Set up serious targets and a process to manage improvements.  Roll up your sleeves and get rid of the Zombies.  And while again this is self serving, it does not make it less true – hire a consultant.  Have someone independent to the organization ask the questions.  Especially if this is a new concept inside the organization.  People don’t like change, they fear it will expose them or put them at risk.  This can lead to the wrong motivation for process improvement.

 

Stuff:  This can be projects, tasks, subtasks, processes, or simply job justification work.





Breaking down Profitability

12 10 2010

One of my favorite bloggers / writers, Seth Godin, writes about “When the long tail is underwater” on his Oct 10th blog.  He actually touches on a couple of interesting points, how much time and energy is created that generates no value, and how do we filter out all of this information to understand what is relevant.

Take for example the Droid/iPhone app market…Apps are everywhere, and try to do everything.  Apple and Droid both claim wildly unusable numbers of apps.  With all of these potential apps, ask your friends what Apps that they can’t live without and people get strangely quiet.  I had a few people respond Urban Spoon and one guy mentioned Wolfram Alpha.

Seriously, hundreds of thousands of apps out there and we can’t create a list of “gotta have” apps? Yes, I know there are hundreds of those lists.  Read one of those lists and ask yourself which one will you be using a month from now.

Sorry back to the point…Compare this to your company’s information:

  • How much data do you have?
  • How many reports do you have?
  • How much of it is relevant?
  • How much old stuff is out there that no one has any idea of its worth?
  • How often do you clean up the environment?
  • How quick do people respond?

AND how often do you hear people say… I don’t have the data?  OR I am not sure where I can find the information I need?

 

 





Analytics Competency Center

28 09 2009

We spend a lot of time on Business Intelligence, Master Data Management, Data Governance, Standardization, off-shoring, etc., yet I rarely hear organizations spending time and energy on analyzing the data.  We have cubes, we can do all sorts of things with reports and dashboards, yet I still hear people say “I need more information!”

It is impossible that we are short on data!

  • How then are we not getting enough information out to the organization?
  • Is it possible that we are spending all of our time and energy on data preparation and data movement?
  • Are we creating value, or just planning to create value?
  • What about creating a center of excellence around the business user?
  • Or something around the levers of the business?




Performance Management Defined

17 09 2009

Last week I asked Jonathan Becker of Manage by Walking Around blog and Gary Cokins of Closing the Intelligence Gap blog to argue the definition of Performance Management and what it might look like…and in all fairness, I need to also share mine:

Performance Management is composed of three distinct disciplines, Strategy Management, Operational Performance Management, and Financial Performance Management. It is a systematic and standardized management and communication process to proactively enhance performance gaps.

  • Strategy Management – to set direction, foster alignment, and communicate priorities
  • Operational Performance Management – where we execute our goals and objectives by creating customer value along with our core processes.  This is also the most widely defined as each industry handles this somewhat differently, but how we manage it should be integrated with a common process.
  • Financial Performance Management – to provide insight into what resources we have and how best to use through monitoring and reporting upon the budget.

In addition to this we need to use within the same system our enabling support structure.  This includes managing technology, culture, people, etc.  Each element needs to be improved upon based upon strategic need, thus helping to eliminate personal politics and squeaky wheels.  Below is my Performance Management framework.

PM Framework Master

Gary makes a great point that most people create a framework that is intentionally incomplete to enhance their offerings (and I completely agree).   I built the above framework with the goal of a complete framework.  It is not perfect, but I feel provides a strong starting point to assess our process improvement gaps.

In the end, management is just a process, albeit a very important one.  It needs to be enhanced and improved to leverage the most of the management talent.





Predictive Analytics Gets Closer

17 09 2009

I am always a little shocked by a company’s resistance to using predictive analytics.  My guess is that is a combination of not really understanding the value, fearful that they won’t get it right, or not having the right talent to use it.  It has long been labeled as “white lab coat stuff” and perhaps that is a bit accurate.  But software is making this easier, and MBAs are studying it so this label should be diminishing.

The Value:  Reducing costs, increasing returns, quicker identification of issues – these are all critical wants of every organization.  If we can only chase five opportunities with roughly the same make up, a little predictive analytics should be able to tell you who is more likely to have a higher customer lifecycle value.  If you only can cover 10% of the market with a marketing campaign, predictive analytics can help you determine which 10% is likely to have the greatest yield.

The Fear:  I understand this, but it is a little irrational as all decisions involve some level of risk.  All predictive analytics do is make decisions based on an elevated likelihood of being right.  If I told you I could make you 10% smarter, wouldn’t you listen?

The Talent:  This is perhaps a realistic barrier, but one simply corrected.  Predictive Analytics, while getting easier every day, is still about advanced computations.  Not only do you need to understand how to do them, you need to understand when and where to use them. And more importantly, you need to understand how to transform the information into values an executive team can put into action.

Where do you begin:

  1. Find someone in the organization with a good statistical and business mind (or hire one).  This may not be the technical team – it often takes a little different skill set.  Or find a small team.
  2. Find a business process where there is pretty good data and that will add value at the end of the day – customer attraction, attrition, fraud detection, scrap reduction, etc.
  3. Put a small project in place to try it.
  4. Enter my favorite stats words – Parsimony:  Find the most simple answer.  This is easier to explain and digest of how to put the project into action.  (Why is a word that strange about the simplest answer).  It is easy to end up tweaking a project to death.  Don’t do it on the first pass.  You get lost in data and often find it far more difficult to explain and complete the project.
  5. Try it and accept the results.  The is tremendous learning in failing (and chances are likely you won’t fail if you didn’t bite off that much).

Examples:

  • Let’s say you can identify customers who are likely to abandon you and then work to make sure those customers are treated better.  If your abandonment rate drops by 10%, what is the value to the bottom line?
  • If you can identify customer segments that are less price sensitive, what is the value of a 1% increase in average deal size (note that the entire amount really should drop to the bottom line as well)?
  • What if you can reduce fraud by 5%?

The numbers show that predictive analytics are very real.  It is not about guessing, it is about reducing the risk of guessing.  And if you follow many blogs, all of a sudden there is a lot more information on predictive analytics.  IBM is finally putting together some wood behind the arrow of its SPSS purchase which may also begin to influence more decision makers in the space.

Related Links:





The Spandex Rule

8 09 2009

“Because you can doesn’t mean you should” (unknown source)

While this is a little entertaining, it actually makes a great deal of business sense.  All too often we do things we should not do – and sometimes we did it just because we could or we wanted to.  Hope is not an effective strategy, and willingness should not be misplaced for must.

What we need to do is understand strategic gaps, and build out solid plans to close them.  We need to create a process to identify performance issues early in the cycle and put initiatives in place to fix them.  We also need to understand the core processes in our organization that create customer value and work tirelessly to improve them.





Survival of Innovation

31 08 2009

In 1988 Pinnacle Brands broke into the baseball card market.  The market had long been dominated by a couple of players (Topps,  Donruss, and Fleer) and the market was doing fairly well.  It catapulted onto the scene by throwing in new features to the market, more colorful cards, full edge bleeds, more information, etc with their Score brand.  Over time they added in brand variations that were targeted at very specific markets:

  • Score:  Lower price point, more kid friendly
  • Select:  Mid price point, geared for the beginning collector
  • Pinnacle:  Higher price point for the more serious collector

If you followed the baseball card market at that time you will remember it as a rather unique time.  It was perfect example for economists.  The value of each card, pack, box was independently valued by third parties.  Card shops popped up in nearly every neighborhood to trade cards, and serious collectors were following the distribution trucks buying entire cases at a time before they even hit the shelves.  The catch was that you could not make all the cards you wanted.  The more you made the less you sold, and vice versa.

One of the main things that happened was the wrong sales mentality.  What made them successful, new  innovation, also hurt them.  They tried to stack the cards to the ceiling and create a consumer good mentality, not realizing the principal that the card would really only sell if they kept product very limited.

Hindsight being perfect (still a good lesson none the less) they should have kept production runs low, elevating the brand and looked for other ways to extend the brand.  As a last change, they started to get into other types of cards.  I think in the beginning they had the brains to come up with demand creation card games like today’s Pokeman genre.

Upper Deck came along in the same year and appears to be the leader in the field today.  Usually someone is going to survive, are you doing everything you can to make sure it is you?





KPI: Overhead per Customer

22 07 2009

If you are trying to measure management improvement, how about looking at Overhead per Customer (or per transaction).  This should be a decent indicator in terms of management and overhead scalability.  If we are doing a better job of managing the business we should see some increased returns in the management function.

  • If the trend is increasing, we should be discussing the scalability of the organization.
  • If the trend is decline, is it for the right reasons?

While you are at it, you might also include cost of sales per transaction.  This one is perhaps a little more debateable in that we don’t want to artificially manage this number.  Reducing the number of sales reps, may drive down the number.  Reducing compensation plans may chase away our better sales reps.





Price of Distraction

21 07 2009

Over the weekend, I was telling the story of Informix (now part of IBM) and the number of databases it tried to market and sell.  At one point in time, Informix marketed the following databases:

  • Standard Engine (SE) /OnLine 5 / IDS 7 / IDS 9 /RedBrick

It then aquired Ardent Software and added two more databases, UniVerse and UniData.  While the company was looking to build a data warehouse focused organization, the database was taking less and less focus.  There were a number of problems the company was facing.

  • There were not enough people at that time who could sell the complex technology well
  • The market was not really ready for the high end product
  • Each change in leadership elevated a different product to the forefront
  • A confused customer base
  • A skillful competitor in Oracle
  • A little SEC troubles

Informix itself is a great case study.  At one point, I simply asked the question “what if we sell OnLine 5 and SE to remove the distraction?”  Both OnLine 5 and SE were great products in their day, unfortunately those days were long past.  Both products still did somewhat well in the VAR space and were highly profitable the late 90′s.  My rationale was that we only made $10 million a year on each and most of that was profit.  We were shooting for the $1 billion plateau in annual sales and a $10 million product was a rounding error.

At the time I was the product manager for all of the legacy products, which accounted for approximately 50-60% of the companies revenues.  I answered enough requests for OnLine 5 and SE to understand that they were a distraction to the sales force.

Going back to the Seth Godin blog on “don’t sell to bar owners” this is a perfect example where the sales force was not equiped effectively enough to sell the product line.  And most importantly, the customer was confused into what they needed to buy.

  • Is your product strategy consistent and in line with customer needs?
  • Can your sales and marketing teams, concisely explain the positioning of each of the products?
  • Does the customer get what they need, or what the sales rep wants to push?
  • Do sales compensation plans align with customer need?

In the end, the lack of performance resulted in the company being aquired by IBM.  All companies reach stall points, make sure your don’t create your own stall points.  And if you do, recognize your actions and work to minimize the distraction and inconsistency.





Switching Costs & Customer Lock In

20 07 2009

In the day and age of increased competition and homogenus services, what are you doing to maintain your customer base?  In the past, the camera guys were able to get you to lock into their brand by giving you the body of the camera while charging higher fees for the different lens.  Because the switching costs were so high, they essentially we able to maintain their customers.

Look at frequent flier mile programs.  They are basically taking a similar service and creating customer lock in to make sure that customers maintain their status.  If the airline industry can do it with all their issues (lost luggage, long lines, delays and cancellations), why can’t you do it?

  • Do you have a marketing program aimed at creating this type of loyality or lock in?
  • How does your program compare to your competition?
  • Could you do something differently?
  • Do you offer something that is bought in quantity by your customers?  If so,  how can you leverage it more?
  • What is the cost of acquiring a new customer?

Often we think about creating new features to bring in new customers, while we try to force our existing clients to repurchase.





Perfection to Value

16 07 2009

One of the areas where performance takes a giant hit is in the area of project initiaition or closure.  And this is further complicated by personal preferences, politicing, and portfolio management.

In the diagram below there are three lines.  Line A is Corporate or Organization expectation of the trade off between speed and perfection.  Projects or tasks with little value (lower left corner) should require lower expectations of research, analytical thought, and discussion.  While projects that are higher in value (farther up to the right) should have higher expectations on quality of thought and preparation.

Perfection to Value Trends2

What happens all too often is we see line C where people don’t have the capacity or time to do the right job and throw something together.  We see that in the end we deliver far less than desired while wasting resources.  The small blue box is the value received, the red box is the wasted resources, and the green box was the original expected value of the project.  The arc is the value frontier, which demonstrates the trade off value between speed and quantity – or what we expect in terms value created from a combination of speed and quality.

Quality vs Speed - Speed

Or we have line B where we basically have a failure to launch because we spend all of our time debating how to be perfect.  Very similar to the situation with line C where we deliver far less than originally desired while wasting similar resources.

Quality vs Speed - Quality

Portfolio Management

Is this an individual issue, or a management issue?  If we were to plot out the results of the individual projects how would your organization look?

Perfection to Value Management2

If we were to see trends like the circles above, this would indicate a management problem.  As management either did not get the individual(s) to move back to the expected line, or management places to high a premium on either speed or perfection thus artificially altering expecations.

What I have witnessed is that line B is more often the norm.  Line C typically causes painful exposure, which causes people to be more fearful, thus needing more inputs and more support.  This creates more meetings, more approvals, more time, more people, which again causes more information, more analysis, more debate.  It is a vicious circle.

Failure to Act is a companion blog.





Pretty Words

15 07 2009

Listening to Sonia Sotomayor retrack her “wise Latina” comments made me think about an old Vince Gill song – Pretty Words.  “They’re just pretty words” seemed about right.  This is often the role of the politician, to say things that make people feel better.  We have limited manner in which to hold them to their words, so we often judge the words based on if we believed what they were saying.  Think of how we now perceive Roger Clemens, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, and the steroid gang.

One of the problems we have as leaders is an overuse of pretty words.  We are often asked questions that can not be answered at that time, thus forcing us to spin a response:

  • Are we having layoffs?
  • Are we selling the company?

While these hurt credibility with the front line, they are necessary to keep some level of sanity and productivity.  Yet, what happens when executive communication seems to be only about spin and pretty words.  If the rank and file feel “pretty words is all he is giving you” then we have a problem with communication and trust.  If these are broken, you can bet productivity is no where near optimal levels.

As executives and leaders we can know, or we can think we know if people are listening.  What I have often seen is that the good ones assume they don’t know and find out – thus reinforcing positive communication.

  • When was the last time you had an outside, independent team assess “trust” in the organization?
  • What would be the value to the organization?
  • What if you hear something you don’t like?




Productivity Management

9 07 2009

Performance typically ebbs and flows along a number of fronts.  In the worst cases it declines across multiple areas when it is not managed consistently.  Most productivity initiatives create curves something like below:

Productivity Management

  • At point A – we have identified a performance issue and have created a plan to improve performance.
  • At point B – we have succeeded and typically move on to solve another issue.
  • At point C – we start to see productivity decrease from lack of management and attention.

Unfortunately, most things don’t have pretty economic curves or requires focused thought to create one.  And if we do not create a performance plan we typically see the inflection point at C happen closer to A.  This happens because we have not put a plan in place and/or when we feel some momentium we abandon management of the initiative to fight the next battle.





Key Risk Indicator (KRI): Customer Abandonment

1 07 2009

How often do you look at the indicators that a customer is thinking about leaving you?  Do you have a process around this, or do find yourself saying “why did this customer leave us?”

What are the possible indicators for a customer leaving:

  • Time between purchases
  • Decrease in volume
  • Time to Pay bills
  • Increase/decrease in calls to customer servicce
  • Temperature of calls into customer service
  • Longer sales cycles
  • Time between customer visits

Some of these may be difficult to quantify, but are well worth understanding.  I would venture a guess the cost to replace that customer (including lost opportunity value) is less than the effort to put a process into discussing customer abandonment.

If you have stories on how you track customers, or customers you lost and how you should have known, please share them.





Business Modeling

30 06 2009

We spend a tremendous amount of resources on preparing financial models for the company.  Which is absolutely necessary, but we also need to model the operations as well.  For example, if we model the customer lifecycle we can begin to better understand each of the subprocesses within.

This leads to many different insights into the business:

  • Critical transition points within the process – target higher impact performance areas
  • Segment the customer by value – thus better alignment of product and services
  • Better communication of value to stakeholders
  • Enhanced sales negotiation

If we can build the formula around each of the key business processes, then we are providing more tools for the organization to use to focus resources and priorities.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.