CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Do More By Doing Less

Courtesy Huffington Post
Susan Howington, founder and CEO of Power Connections, hosts a meeting of top level business executives from around Orange County. At these round tables she raises a topic of interest and executives discuss and share their points of view. It’s very interesting and engaging and all of us learn from each other.

Recently, Susan brought together a dozen executives with backgrounds in general management, operations, sales, marketing and human resources. Susan started off by reading a recent Wall Street Journal article from January 2018 entitled: How to Succeed in Business: Do Less. That article basically said that it’s best to do fewer tasks and obsess over getting them right. Another study of 5000 executives referenced in the round table, provided insight into how top producers work. In this study, the key to success revolved around mastering selectivity on what was to get done and saying NO to bosses.

It was unanimous within the group that FOCUS is critical to executive success and to a company. It was no longer the norm to work harder. The goal is to work smarter and by working on fewer “priorities” success would follow. This doesn’t mean you forget about everything that is on your list of 50+ activities that need to be accomplished. Rather, this list is maintained. Select the top three activities and then as one is complete you add another to the top three list. Focus is critical. I remember an employee at one of my companies that came to me with a list of more than 100 items and was overwhelmed. I sat down with her and tried to prioritize those 100 into some sequence to get her to focus on the most important. I cannot say it was a perfect success, but we did agree by eventually using pairwise comparison, which activities were on top of the list. And then I told her I would only evaluate her on the top three activities and when those were complete we would modify her objectives and add the next priority. She was not happy but she acquiesced.

During the round table discussion, some attendant questions were addressed:
  1. How do you prioritize personal needs with business needs?
  2. How do you find what is the most important in the corporate world?
  3. How do you say no to bosses?
How do you prioritize personal needs with business needs?
  • Executives must balance both personal and corporate needs. We hear about work / life balance and millennials especially want to ensure this balance is maintained.
  • Ensure you know what you want to do. Start with a personal vision/mission statement. For example, mine is to build businesses and build the next generation of business leaders. Make sure there is time set aside each week to do one or two things that help support your self-vision.
  • On the corporate side, ensure you understand the business strategy and the metrics the business will use to determine success. Then make sure you develop a maximum of one to three things and make sure your results support those corporate metrics.
How do you find out what is most important in a corporate world?
  • On the corporate side, ensure you understand the business strategy and the metrics the business will use to determine success. Then make sure you develop a maximum of one to three things and make sure your results support those corporate metrics.
  • Market research can be used to determine what is important to focus on. Notwithstanding the corporate strategy and business plan, market research can obtain information on what is important to the customer and how well the company performs on that attribute. The results can be plotted on a Quad map. (See my prior blogs for a detailed description.) Priorities should be given to those attributes that are important to a customer and which are performed well (leverage and maintain those activities) as well as those that are important yet not performed well. Those have to be corrected and might form strategic initiatives for the company.
  • Once you determine what is important to do, you have to determine how that task or activity fits on the importance/urgency scale. Certainly if something is urgent and important, it has to get done. However, the key to success is to determine what is important and NOT urgent and prioritize those activities so you have time to do them right.

·     What happens when you have a boss that says, “We will work from morning til night until everything is done,” and then keeps adding more activities and chores to the list? I know I have had those types of bosses. Sometimes you have to say no and it is how you say no that may be critical. Of course you can try to quote Warren Buffet who said: ”The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” In my opinion, you can do this only if you have succeeded in prior projects and earned that type of respect. But what happens when the boss is adamant?

How do you say no to bosses?
  • Develop your list of activities and work with your boss to determine the top three things that need to get accomplished.
  • Use the concept of SMART (specific, measurable, accountable, responsible, time limited) goals or management by objectives to set up the goal, metric for success, and time when the objective will be accomplished.
  • Ask for more time or help to accomplish projects or activities that are important to the boss.
  • Note: the participants at the round table suggested that if the boss will not agree on prioritization and other negative cultural habits crop up, that environment could be toxic and it might be time to find another job. Most bosses will listen to reason – at least we hope.
Once these three questions are addressed, you have to execute. Here are some prescriptions to help execute your priorities:
  • Use your calendar to block specific time slots, making a meeting with yourself, to accomplish your priorities.
  • Answer emails only at selected times during the day, e.g. first thing in the morning, before lunch, and before you leave for the day. Many of us hear the little email tone signaling “you’ve got mail” and we respond immediately.
  • Select a personal advisory board to help you keep focused on the important tasks both personally and for business.
  • Develop a corporate battle rhythm to focus on those important activities and plan them out on a calendar with the right people in attendance. As a correlate, don’t have meetings without a clear agenda and expected outcomes and don’t invite people if they are really not needed at the meeting.
  • Develop executive alignment on strategic initiatives through the strategic planning process. Use a facilitator to help define the priorities. Market research that provides input from customers on importance and performance can be used as the basis for that alignment and the executive team can multi-vote on the most important strategic initiatives.

This blog is only meant to touch the surface of what we discussed and the answers in many companies are probably more complex. Yet the round table discussion was a great start to get us to think about how focus and prioritization will make us more productive. And saying NO to bosses, while scary at times, is the right way to help you, them, and the company to be more successful in the long run.

If you have any questions or want to continue the dialog, contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net or Susan Howington at susan@powerconnectionsinc.com



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Five Not So Easy Lessons on Growth Leadership







Most of us watched Superbowl 52 between the Eagles and the Patriots. Part of the charm of the
Superbowl and the parties we attend, relates to seeing the commercials. In fact, much time is used “rating” the commercials in terms of humor, appeal, and somewhere down the line the effectiveness of the advertising spend. As a piece of trivia, a Superbowl commercial this year costs $5 million for a 30 second ad PLUS the actual cost of designing, developing and shooting the commercial. Note that Nick Foles, the Eagles’ Quarterback and MVP, made only $1.6 million for the entire year. By the way, as a Giant’s fan I really liked the Eli/Odell Dirty Dancing commercial.

Last year, Coke eliminated the role of Chief Marketing Officer and reorganized around a new role of Chief Growth Officer (CGO) to integrate marketing with customer and commercial teams. Other consumer package goods (CPG) companies, such as Hershey and Kellogg, have also moved to a similar function with Kellogg instituting the function in mid-2015. How successful are those companies? It may be too early to tell. Kellogg’s results over the past few years have been passable and they might not be the best model to use. Their CGO was an advertising executive – albeit very smart and well regarded and their revenue the year after his appointment was DOWN.

We can argue that a title change may be necessary but it is certainly not sufficient for improving growth and making that revenue and growth profitable. The Chief Marketing Officer has significant issues in a corporate structure. I have seen many times that marketing is regarded as a function of planning more ads, designing creative billboards, winning the contest of the best Superbowl ad, and winning creative awards. This is more “fluff and stuff” vs the reality of hard marketing and on this basis alone, a change in title from marketing to growth officer seems warranted.

Let’s take a look at five (5) lessons that can be applied to what I call Growth Leadership.


1. Growth starts with the CEO. Without the CEO and his strategy, successful growth plans cannot be put into place. I keep reminding myself of the Alice in Wonderland quote: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Companies who want to grow have to put a CEO with that objective in place and not all CEOs fit that bill.

2. The company has to have a growth mentality. While this may start with the CEO, the people he hires and the culture of the organization must be focused on growing. I know this may sound strange to some. Unfortunately, most of us have been in companies that believe growth is based only on EBITDA increasing. While that is important, EBITDA can be improved – at least in the short term – by cutting cost. I have never believed that you can shrink yourself into greatness.

3. Innovation must be a hallmark of a growth company. Without a solid business model and without good products companies will not grow. There is just too much competition and the internet and agile development around software puts many companies on an even footing. Think about companies you know. How many of them are growing? How many of them have a solid product line and product portfolio? Growing companies have solid portfolios and products in the wings – or a good acquisition strategy to acquire new products or partners that have these new products. A creative ad on the Superbowl is not sufficient. Recall the commercials you watched. Which ads pushed minor line extensions or existing product vs. new ones? I only recall two really new products: a Kia Stinger car and a new Lexus LC500. (BTW, I like both of these cars!!)

4. P=R-C. Let’s get to basics. Any officer in a company must recognize this fundamental equation and determine how they can affect the elements which create profit. Clearly, a Chief Growth Officer will be responsible for the revenue side as well as the investment which will be put to use in generating that revenue. As a correlate, growth officers must change their internal perspective of being cost centers to investment centers. They need to think about a concept called return on investment. Even good marketing officers that I have known, focus on a concept called ROMI or return on marketing investment, treating marketing as a business and not merely a creative channel. So, when we look at the Superbowl commercials, how many of these were merely “fluff and stuff” creating awareness for the company vs. a means to drive growth? Would the company be better off spending more than $5 million on alternative marketing activities that would directly drive growth? What is interesting is that small companies with lack of budget dollars focus on the bottom line and are tactically driven.


5. An integrated approach to growth can be achieved with forethought. Whether you call the executive a Chief Growth Officer, Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Marketing Officer, I believe this person is an integrative force within the company. This person, whether directly or indirectly, must be a linking pin between the outside world of the customer and the internal world of production and manufacturing. That person needs to connect and get different functions such as marketing, product, demand generation, social media, customer service, usability/user interface, and customer service to work together to a common end.
 
That person must be responsible for a) managing at least part of the investment in growth initiatives, b) managing or certainly influencing the innovation process relating to new products, line extensions, and processes to make the customer experience better, c) the overall go-to-market strategy and tactics that are broad to include all customer touchpoints. I call this Big M marketing where the company executives are aligned for a common purpose and focus on providing the best products and services to the customer.  Individual silos are eliminated and therefore a consistent brand image can be projected. And most, important, all these components need to have targets and be measured and reviewed as part of the business battle rhythm of the company.

The title of a function is important just as a brand and its meaning is important to a company. I am not a huge fan of marketing as it is implemented in many companies because in my opinion current Chief Marketing Officers have failed with regard to helping a company grow their revenues profitably. I have argued this many times before. I believe I am correct in my assessment, as the tenure of a CMO is approximately 4 years, lowest tenure in the C-suite and approximately half as long as their CEOs. But I also believe that there is an opportunity for companies to improve their top line growth and margins by following these 5 prescriptions. We, at C-Level Partners, are focused on helping small to mid-cap businesses improve their growth and margins. Write to me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net to see how we can help your company grow.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Secrets to Create Your Own Luck

Sheryl Sandberg said:  If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on. Here's the rub: will the rocket ship ride be successful or will it blow up? It's easy when you have made it to look back and give advice. Remember Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof when he sang "If I were a rich man..........." People would fawn on you because you made it and listen to your advice but that advice may or may not be useful.

I DO believe you can create your own luck and you need to take chances because opportunities come along infrequently. Just don't be rash. And let's be realistic – luck plays an important role in which rocket ship you jump on. So the question to me is how can you improve your luck?

Let me change course for a minute. How many of you get emails hawking a system in stock trading that says you can make $1million with an investment of only $10,000? I get those emails all the time and sometimes I am curious enough to find out how. It’s usually based on highly leveraged trades using options or other derivatives and the deals are truly based on luck. I will give you an example that has the good and the bad of both. If you would have invested $8,000 in Ethereum (ETC), a cryptocurrency, in Dec. 2016, and you sold only 7 months later you would have made $380,000!!

Hindsight is wonderful. Or if I invested only $100 in the lottery and was successful, I could have made $100 million. Makes me want to run out now and buy a ticket.

Investing $8,000 is a lot for many people and the potential for loss in the stock market is fairly high. Risking $1 or even $100 on a high potential return is less risky and most people can afford to lose a small amount of money to win something very large. Playing with your career, however, is a high risk venture so you have to be somewhat cautious and take calculated risks. Additionally, as business people you may be faced with several different projects or opportunities that you can jump on (the rocket ships) and the question remains:  “how do you select the right opportunity?” So, the question exists whether you are playing the stock market, the lottery, being an angel investor or Venture Capitalist, or just a good business person. The answer is not simple yet those successful in finding that rocket ship have a system they follow – or they are just plain lucky.

A system is a set of rules and methodologies that are used to select options from a set of opportunities. And, moreover, it is a set of principles to follow that tell you when to exit and while you are in the opportunity, how to manage the opportunity to achieve the best success. Whether it is the stock market, your business career, or the leader of projects the same general principles will apply. Jack Schwager wrote a series of books called The Market Wizards  (click the link for Schwager’s Amazon site). In short he discovered that each successful investor had different systems but the one thing that stood out is the discipline each investor had at implementing their system AND each investor had some unique skill or advantage that he/she put to use, e.g. great analytical mind, attention to detail, or understanding of a specific market.

Creating a 6-step system for luck

There is no magical system that can be implemented that creates luck. There is no service to which you can subscribe. Yet, there are some steps you can take that will improve your chances of success and make you lucky. As Thomas Jefferson said: “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more I have of it. Here are 6 steps you can take to work not only harder but also smarter.

1.   Get organized. Create a journal of ideas and catalog them. Have a special book with tabs for these ideas. I set up a journal using Staples ARC system and have tabs on new ideas, new blogs, interesting articles and I review them regularly.
2.   Live your passion. This sounds so simple but from the perspective of building luck, living means getting out and networking and attending events with others who share your passion. I believe luck is improved when you focus on your passion. If you are a technologist live in that environment by attending events at schools, through meetups and other in-person activities. Relationships with others can lead to luck. Think about people at Harvard who met Bill Gates or Mark Zukerberg and had the opportunity to know them and eventually work for them. Attend TED events for new ideas. I am interested in AI and deep learning so I pay attention to meetings that talk about these technologies. I have become active with a group at CHOC hospital called MI3 (Medical Information and Intelligence Institute) run by Dr. Anthony Chang and whose focus is on applying AI to health care. Companies that present there and discussions on topics may give me ideas that I can enter into my journal.
3.   Improve your learning. With the Internet it is easy to learn. You can sign up through Coursera or the Kahn Academy or through colleges who offer educational information. It’s also easy to sign up for Google Alerts for things that are important to you. I also read Investor Business Daily, not only for stock information but also the sections on New Technology and New America. But don’t stop there; you can set up your reader on the internet to send you articles on topics of interest. My home page on Yahoo is set up with RSS feeds on subjects of interest.
4.   Evaluate ideas and perform due diligence. There will never be a dearth of ideas. The issue is evaluating these ideas based on attributes that are important to you. Consider risk vs. reward. If it is a new company you are evaluating (the rocket ship) look at the competition and the management team. In angel investing we pay more attention to the management team than any other factor. Do some market research, preferably first hand research. I recall a postal worker who delivered the mail years ago and he saw something very interesting. People were having red disks delivered to their homes. The company was Netflix and he invested early. In June 2002 the price was under $1 per share; now it is nearly $200. It is not as rapid a growth as Ethereum but it has been and probably will be a good ride. Another way to research something is to walk around the malls, especially for consumer goods. See where people, especially young people, are buying and what they are wearing.
5.   Act quickly. You don’t want to be rash but when opportunity knocks you have to act quickly. At this point you will have had collected ideas, learned about new things and probably evaluated ideas. When the idea is presented or the opportunity materializes you might have already analyzed it. Then make a decision and move on. As they say, success is never final; failure is never fatal. This brings us to the last point.
6.   Develop a contingency plan. Uncertainty exists and sometimes events beyond your control can put a damper on the best plans. Therefore, it is always good to reevaluate your plans and opportunities on a regular basis, e.g. every 6 months but certainly not longer than a year.

Final thoughts

The system is important and if you have a good system positive outcomes will accrue in time. If you are not getting positive outcomes either your system is not good or your “edge” is not as great as you thought. Here are some considerations for you.
  • Early failure is not the end of the world. You have to get comfortable in your system and potentially tweak it. The key is the ability to fail fast and learn from your mistakes.
  • Flexibility. I have written in the past that a great business executive has to be “fast, fluid, and flexible.”  This is certainly true for those in business and in improving their luck at getting on the right rocket ship.
  • The method used to improve luck and success has to be right for you. Just as Schwager showed for great investors, their systems matched their personalities. You have to find a system that works for your temperament and your level of risk.
  • Being lucky is not easy but luck increases with more opportunities and learning. You can make your own luck by hard work and learning from your mistakes. The key factor though may be how you personally deal with setbacks and success. It is said you learn more from setbacks and as I look at my own career, I can certainly resonate with that point.
There is no perfect system that can be implemented to improve your luck. And frankly, I believe some people are luckier than others. An actor that is “discovered” by a movie executive is one example. For others, especially in the business world seeking success or fame and fortune, it is more likely a combination of keeping your eyes open, actively seeking out opportunities, and a balance of IQ (innate intelligence) plus EQ (emotional intelligence and resilience) plus BQ (business sense which can be learned).

And maybe one day, for those readers of this blog who become successful, I will see you on the cover of Forbes magazine. For more discussions, feel free to reach out to me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Message Map- a Cool Tool

How many times in your career did you have to make a presentation and had trouble hitting the mark?  Either your pitch was off point, did not cover the essential elements or you just rambled without having the focus you knew was needed to get your message across. Think about your having to make a presentation for funding for your pet project or presenting a strategic plan to your Board, dealing with an unruly press (of course the press is never unruly!!) or even presenting your credentials in an interview setting.

This is where message mapping can help prepare you for such presentations. I have used this template in different situations in my career and I want to send my thanks to Tripp Frohlichtstein, a media guru and founder of Media Masters, who taught me this method nearly 25 years ago and who recently passed away. It is actually a very simple architecture of building your messages using three different building blocks and is shown as follows:


Home Base:  The major point you are trying to convey and when discussions become tough the presenter goes back to the home base and restates the major point he/she is trying to get across.

Message Pillars:   The home base, major message is supported by 2 to 4 message pillars which are categories of items upon which the major message is based.

Proof Points:  These are the specific quantifiable or discrete items that support the message pillars.

Let’s take two examples. One of the examples is based on trying to sell a new idea to your board of directors.  In this case, the message map may have the following components;

Home Base:  We have a new SaaS product that is based on proprietary behavioral analytics incorporated with Artificial Intelligence that enables Fortune 2000 companies prevent cyber attacks.

Message Pillar 1:  Technology
               Proof point 1: 5 patented algorithms
               Proof point 2: Technology licensed from University of California
Message Pillar 2:  Partnerships
               Proof Point 1: Partnerhsip with IBM Watson
               Proof Point 2: Broadcom partnership for new chip
               Proof Point 3: Visualization tool provided by Palantir
Message Pillar 3:  Customers lined up for Beta
               Proof Point 1:  Fortune 10 company in aerospace agreed to test product in the US
               Prood Point 2: GSA contract in process
               Proof Point 3:  5 additional customers agreed to try before buying
Message Pillar 4: Competition
               Proof Point 1:  Cost will be 50% of existing competing products      
               Proof Point 2:  Competitive moat can be established based on patented algorithms
               Proof Point 3:  Co-branding with partner  creates distinct product set in eyes of the customer.

By visually writing these points out on a piece of paper the presenter has a great tool to use in preparation for the Board presentation. Additional data supplementing each message pillar or proof point can be developed as well.

The second example where the message map is useful is in preparation for interviews and  I have this technique to prepare them. Let’s say the person is a marketing expert looking for a new C-Level job where he doesn’t have the precise experience in the industry but has a related experience in working with recurring revenue streams. I will fill in part of the message map and perhaps the reader can think about what else needs to be filled in as proof points.

Home Base:  Marketing executive with more than 25 years experience developing recurring revenue streams in a diverse set of industries which relies on my creativity, innovation and use of third party partnerships to generate improved margins. (Note the bold elements which set up the 4 message pillars.)

Message Pillar 1: Recurring revenue streams
               Proof Point 1: Three companies where I led marketing to 4 new recurring revenue products
               Proof Point 2: Total revenue for 4 products was 200 million per year by the second year
Message Pillar 2: Creativity and Innovation
               Proof Point 1: Used Lead User research to design a platform product which was extensible                                          to 2 other market segments
               Proof Point 2:  Relied on my contacts at my alma mater to develop licensing agreement in                                           exchange for share of future revenue
Message Pillar 3: Partnerships
               Proof Point 1:  Partnership with University
               Proof Point 2:  Partnership with new sales channels including Geek Squad and CDW
Message Pillar 4: Improved Margins
               Proof Point 1:  Gross margins ranged from 40-65% on each product introduced.


While these examples are fictionalized (based on fact by the way), they illustrate the power of the message map. Clearly there are many elements of using the message map that are not covered in this blog. Yet the power of this type of tool is evident. 

If you have questions please contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net and visit our site at www.clevelpartner.net for other resources and tools that can help your business grow. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Pen IS Mightier than the Computer- Sort Of!

Many people who know me realize that I collect pens- fountain pens. Some of my collection is shown on the left.  Last year I went to the LA Pen Show for the first time and it was packed around the mezzanine of a Marriott Hotel.   Today, I received an article from an investment group and the writer, Patrick Wilson, Senior Economic Analyst for Maudlin Economics (@PatrickW) wrote an interesting piece which resonated with me.  I wanted to share that.

As an angel investor with TechCoastAngels (www.techcoastangels.com) we listen to pitches to see which companies are investable for our investor group.  After each presentation we take notes and provide comments- both what we like and concerns.  I recall one time when a colleague was to take notes but he did not have a pen and paper and he had to find his computer.   (Of course, I offered him a pad and pen but he politely declined.)   When I read this article and thought back to my days in school and even the way I do stock and market analysis for investments, marketing, or just learning, it made me realize a few things.
First, as Patrick points out the newest technology isn’t always the best tool for the job nor as helpful as you think it might be. Recall the acronym KISS.   Pens are KISS at the right time and place.

Patrick wrote
For instance, recently I saw a Quartz article on cursive handwriting. Many schools that stopped teaching it now realize that was a mistake. Research shows that writing by hand actually helps your brain work better.
The reasons for taking handwriting seriously are worth considering even if you’re not a kid or a parent worried about education. Anyone can benefit from penmanship’s cognitive benefits, whether you’re taking notes at a meeting or just trying to figure out what you think.
Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity. Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.
That matches my own experience. I used to see people at conferences taking notes on their computers and feel a little embarrassed to bring out my paper notepad. But having tried both, I found that handwriting is faster, and I retain the information better.
For all our whiz-bang technology, it turns out that a pen and notepad work better than the latest “notebook” computers and you never have to recharge them. (They’re also hackproof, at least for me. No one else can read my writing even if they steal my notepad.)
I liked the article on several levels.  First, find the right tool for the problem.  If a company is looking to do a marketing campaign, they might not need an Oracle system for a direct mail program but rather Get Response or even an Outlook plug in depending on their list size.   If a company has a large project to manage, should they use Microsoft Project or something like Odoo?  The answer is it all depends on circumstance, complexity, skills of the people using the tools and the like.
If you have questions on tools to be used in business, I would be glad to chat.  Or if you just want to talk about fountain pens we can do that as well.  BTW from left to right, the fountain pens are: Delta Dolce Vita Large, Visconti Cosmo, Pelican 800, ST DuPont Orpheo Palladium, and Waterman LeMans 100.   Contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net or 949 4394503. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Communications for Strategic Advantage: The Voice of Leadership

                          The art of communications is the language of leadership.    
                                                             James Humes, author and presidential speechwriter.  

I was always taught as a youngster that if you are smart people will listen.  How UNTRUE.  Certainly being smart is important but it is the tone, tenor and communications style you use that makes you real powerful and a person to whom people want to listen.  Think about the people in your life – be it at home or in the office- and see how you react to them in different situations.  Learning the key traits to communicating is both an art and a science.

I had the privilege of listening to Victor Dominguez, Managing Partner of Ligature Group provide a keynote talk at a recent Masters Lunch.  Victor is a communications pro and a “creative” with an advertising background. His consultancy focuses on building authentic communications with people and to move relationships from the initial stages of building trust to forming strategic partnerships.

Here are some of his pearls of wisdom from his talk.  Frankly I wish I learned this as a first time executive as I would have been able to build relationships faster.

      1. There are 10 cultural conflicts which undermine a  company’s success
            a.      Fear
            b.      Blame
            c.      Workaround
            d.      Assumptions
            e.      Backsliding
            f.       Lack of Accountability
            g.      Organizational Silos
            h.      Gossip
            i.       Disrespect
            j.       Chronic Dysfunctional Behavior
    2. Employees can resolve conflict  without special training by focusing on
           a.       Respect
           b.      Trust
           c.       Listening and identifying shared goals
           d.       Advise
           e.      Change
    3.  Align communications with ethics and actions
           a.       Do the right thing
           b.       For the right reason
           c.       Do it the right way
   4.    It’s not about the words you use; it’s about what people hear
   5.    Build trust and respect by
           a.       Asking questions
           b.       Listen actively and purposefully
   6.    Communicating with Millennials seems to be hard but is really easy
           a.     Millennials don’t like BS!
                        i.      Avoid corporate talk
                        ii      Say it straight and don’t talk down to a millennial
           b.   Focus on the end goal to solve a problem
           c.    Recognize them for their results- then again, who doesn’t like kudos and recognition?
   7.    The ability to learn faster than your competition may be the only sustainable competitive                advantage.

Of the 7 items listed I know that early in my career I violated several of these tenets.   Thankfully I have learned from my mistakes.  The good news is that many younger executives and even more “mature” ones should pay attention to these pearls of wisdom as the combination of smarts and communications skills will make you more effective faster.

Do you agree or disagree with this blog?  Let me know and please like it and share it as you see fit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What the Heck is a Business Battle Rhythm?

As a reader of Sun Tzu and the Art of War, I have been applying the rules of warfare to business and marketing for more than 30 years (hard to believe it is that long but I started as a child prodigy!!). In warfare, there is a concept called Battle Rhythm and usually that goes hand in hand with knowledge management. A battle rhythm is the heart of military operational management. Effective management means efficiently processing inputs and intent to enable the Commander to make decisive decisions. Knowledge management is less about technology than it is about identifying the right information, putting that information in context of the end game, and then collaborating and sharing information with the right people.

Developing and maintaining a business battle rhythm takes the military concept into the business world and enables an organization – company, division, department, or group – to ingest data, turn that data into knowledge, and use that knowledge to collectively or individually make decisions and put the resources in play to implement those decisions. Business battle rhythms are important because the pace of business today is extremely fast. With the Internet and communications technologies available to most companies, even the smallest competitor can outflank a larger competitor to gain an advantage in the market.

The following attributes are needed in a business battle rhythm:
  • Speed and sense of urgency because everything today operates at Internet speed. (Remember the concept of fast, fluid and flexible.)
  • Accountability and responsibility such that a person is accountable for a result and a team is in place to support the one accountable for the final result.
  • Engagement to ensure that there is collaboration and interplay among the executives relative to the metrics that drive success and to ensure that there is alignment of all internal resources for the common purpose of winning the battle or the war against the company’s common enemy.
  • Competitiveness which focuses resources of the company on a common goal of winning against the outside enemy while putting aside internal differences and petty turf wars.
  • Diversity of thought to get different views on a problem. With diversity of thought data can be viewed from different perspectives and the context of the data will lead to different knowledge based on the perspective, background and history of the different participants in the decision process.
A battle rhythm uses information and decision processes to make business decisions. One way to look at business battle rhythm is through the scheduling of meetings. Each meeting should have a clear purpose, specific outcomes, and specific attendees. In the most simplistic form, let’s assume that a business builds products and services to meet the needs of customers, manages the materials, capital and human resources to build the product and then sells and supports the products/services to customers directly or through distribution.

A battle rhythm can therefore be developed around this business and its basic processes. In large companies meetings are a necessary evil but you want to be focused on the clarity of the objectives of the meeting, the issues to be discussed and the appropriate people in the room to make the right decisions.  Here’s an example of a business battle rhythm that we used on a tech company.  

  1. Executive staff meetings. Executive staff meetings are used to review items of import to each of the team and in addition to use the time to build trust and relationships. I believe that executive staff meetings should occur early on Monday morning so the week can be started with all executives understanding the issues, problems and priorities for the week. Unlike other meetings with a more fixed agenda, executive staff meetings should a) review the past week and highlight issues that need to be handled in the coming week, b) ensure that each of the executives at the meeting raises issues or problems that are important to the group, and c) prioritize the items that need to be handled in the coming weeks and make assignments of the executives to handle each of those items.
  2. Operational reviews. Companies can set an operational weekly (or bi-weekly) meeting to review metrics, the balanced scorecard, status of strategies, products, financials, human management factors and related items. The reviews can be conducted on Weds morning after part of the week has gone by and this timing enables the team to correct actions by the end of the week.
  3. Deep dives. Based on results which have not met expectations or projects that are behind schedule, there might be a need for these intensive reviews where contingency plans or options to get the metric or project back on track are discussed and assignments for corrective action made.
  4. Product reviews. Product review meetings ensure that major projects and strategic initiatives are on track. Milestones are reviewed and corrective action for milestones not on track is put into place.
  5. Sales reviews. Sales are the lifeblood of any company. In these reviews, the entire sales funnel is reviewed with particular attention to moving sales to the next stage in the company’s sales process. Resources are assigned as appropriate to support the sales managers.
The following calendar is representative of a week of operational reviews.
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A battle rhythm for other meetings such as skip level meetings, strategic off sites, and competitive reviews, among others can and should be developed. Miscellaneous reviews might be required for different organizational elements and even at different times during the year. Standing meetings are scheduled. Additional ad-hoc meetings can be scheduled for specific reasons.

The business battle rhythm is not merely a schedule but a plan, in the case above, for a weekly routine to manage the business. Each meeting has a specific agenda, with a purpose, materials to be provided ahead of time to the participants, a goal, a list of attendees, a place to memorialize the results of the meeting and a listing of the follow-up action items. Organizations within the company can more easily coordinate their activities if they know each other’s battle rhythm.

Every organization from the largest business to the small business should use a well written and developed battle rhythm. While the battle rhythm above is written for a weekly version, the best organizations use a monthly and annual battle rhythm as well.

What are your thought about this concept? Does it make sense or is it too bureaucratic? Feel free to call me to discuss how C-Level Partners can help your company set your battle rhythm.  And please like and share this with others as you see fit.  ou can contact me at dfriedman@clevelpartners.net.