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Sunday, 26 August 2018

Is Your Mission Statement Cut and Paste? Rewrite it to Mean Something!

How often have you been in the reception area of a company and seen the Mission Statement, beautifully designed and printed and tastefully framed, on the wall for all to see? 

Have you ever thought in a mischievous moment that you could take it off the wall and replace it with one from the next door company and no-one would notice the difference?

More to the point, have you looked at your Mission Statement lately?  Could you recite it to anyone who asked?

Mission Statements tend to be a given, something that every company should have and a necessary message to customers and suppliers.  So they should be, but generally they do seem to have been written by someone who has drawn deeply from the Goldberg Compendium of Clich├ęs and Platitude.

In other words, they usually don’t mean a damn thing.

All the words like “honesty”, “integrity”, “commitment”, “our people” and so on, are interchangeable with the one from next door and are consequently meaningless.  All those characteristics ought to be given and are only of value when they have all be demonstrated and are visible.

So what is a Mission Statement and what should it look like?  It should say what the business is constantly striving to achieve for the benefit of its workforce, its customers, its suppliers and its community.

The Vistage Mission Statement says, for example, that “We are dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of Chief Executives” and that is one of the best that I have seen.   

It encapsulates exactly what the purpose is and what Vistage intends to achieve for its members.  It doesn’t harp on about honesty and integrity because those are demonstrated at all times by the behaviour and attitude of its people.

The point is that it needs to start with the values of the business and again, this is the province of the leader.  Obviously honesty, integrity and all the other warm words can be listed but with some meaningful explanation so that they are not just warm words.  Values are essentially an internal matter and are the bedrock of the Vision and Mission Statement.

To whom does all this matter?  Obviously customers and suppliers who experience them on hopefully a regular basis but even more importantly they need to be embedded into the psyche of everyone in the business.

It has been said wisely that we can’t satisfy customers (and suppliers) with dissatisfied employees so that needs to be the most important factor in the culture of the business.

Just for a little enlightenment take a look at another company that had the motto:

·      "Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence."

Its "Vision and Values" mission statement declared,

·      "We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves....We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here."

Very impressive and inspiring, I think you would agree; that is until you discover that the words in question were the Enron Mission Statement. Remember Enron and how it behaved to its customers, suppliers and above all, its employees?

Need I say more?  Just take a look at your Mission Statement, tear it up (unless it is genuinely meaningful) and start again.  Don’t try to have the team do it; it must come from the heart of the leader and encapsulate the culture that the leader espouses. 

Above all, it must be lived by everyone in the business, not just written down.

Then you can put it on the wall in reception with some pride, because it is unique to you and your business and it really does mean something to everyone who reads it.

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Sunday, 19 August 2018

How Well Do You Know Your Competitors? Make Sure You Are Up To Date!

One of the constant messages that I receive from the members of my Vistage CEO peer group and indeed with most other senior business people, is what can we do about the competition?

A neat approach is to say don’t look over your shoulders at your competitors, run your business to make them worry about you.

That is all very well and good but the competition will always be with us and the clever thing is to understand how genuinely important they are to our business and precisely what to do about it, if anything.

In my consulting days I did a great deal of market research, mainly of the desk variety and spent many happy and not always productive hours in the Manchester Central Reference Library.

We were not permitted to use the copier and consequently we had to make copious notes (which were permitted) of any information that seemed appropriate.

Then back to the office to type it all up and try to use it in the research project.  As this usually included vast amounts of statistics the whole exercise was very laborious and very prone to input error.

I don’t have to labour the point that things are vastly different now. Desk market research for whatever reason is a relatively straightforward exercise.

It may be so, but the question is, if it is so simple how often to we do it and use it on a formal basis?

The ancient Chinese military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu, in his great book, The Art of War, coined the phrase, Know Your Enemy.  I once had a member of my CEO peer group who derided the use of this book saying, and rightly so, that we are not at war, we should not compare business to military strategy and generally speaking, no-one gets killed.

Point taken but the basic concepts are very similar and are well worth some consideration.

First of all, how well do you know your competitors and to what level of detail?  I think it very valuable to build dossiers on known and significant businesses that compete with us and this should be an ongoing exercise.

Sources of information are many and varied starting at Companies House (in the UK) to see how their financial position has changed.  Please note, the trend in their financial performance is far more relevant than the latest results so take a five year look to see which way they are going.

Market size and penetration is also useful knowledge.  Again it helps to plot market penetration for your major competitors compared to your business to see how important they and you are to the market.  Anything under 10% penetration is not so significant but as soon as the level exceeds 25% then note that action must be taken. That is a generalisation with some markets being dominated by a major player and with some completely fragmented.  Question is, do you know?

Product information can easily be garnered from the website with price comparisons and in some cases customer reviews.  Where are the differences between their products and yours?

These are simple exercises and any good marketing department should be able to take them on board but if you do, please be certain that the information is up to date and relevant.  If the dossiers are kept online or in hard copy the exhortation is the same, do it, keep it up to date and use it to your advantage.

This enables you to assess and ensure what measure of differentiation exists between you and the competition and how to exploit it to your advantage.

I well recall a speaker once who suggested that we should guarantee something about the business or the product that we supply anyway.  Using that as a marketing ploy ensures that no competitor can use it themselves.

Competitors are not the enemy but they are out there trying to do better than we do.  The more that we know about them the better we can develop differentiation and that leads to better results.

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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Want to Build Lasting Relationships? You Need to Know, Like and Trust People!

My good friend, Tracey Murphy of HR Savvy (www.behrsavvy.co.uk) is an enthusiastic networker and she has a little axiom that she uses to say that she likes to do business “with people I know, like and trust”.
That works for me.  It seems to encapsulate all that is good and appropriate in defining a relationship in business.
There isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any distinction in that statement between customers, suppliers, stakeholders, staff, community; in fact anyone with whom we are in contact during the normal business day.
It is worth picking it apart slightly to examine the specifics.  As far as customers are concerned the verb “know” is really significant.  Marketing methods have changed dramatically over the past few years and are still changing.  There is less face to face contact and this can be a problem.
The old methods of the blunderbuss approach with vast mailings no longer work as they did and in any case are becoming vastly expensive.  Far better to identify those companies with whom we want to do business and then work on them to build a relationship.
This implies a good deal of desk research which is comparatively simple these days to identify the important people in the target businesses, the size and performance of the business, product range, and so on.  What it means is that we can build a dossier about the company before actually meeting them and that is a great start in knowing them.
A stage further is the face to face meeting to develop that knowledge and to get a view on whether it is a business with whom we really do want to deal.  That is a start on the road to liking them which is, I believe, a vital component. It may seem something less than businesslike but we are human beings as well as business people and we much prefer to deal with people that we actually like.
Suppliers are another case in point.  Why should we not develop relationships with them to encourage them to want to deal with us and to offer great service?  I recall a client (Richard) who was a manufacturer of electronic equipment and who held a suppliers’ conference every couple of years.
At one of these he made the point that he would prefer suppliers to refer to their components by his part number rather than theirs.  One of the suppliers stood up and said that their software system would not be able to do that at which Richard smiled gently and said, not to worry, that there was another supplier in the room who could do what he wanted so supplies would still be available.
That resulted in a very quick amendment to software and Richard had dual supplies which is precisely what he wanted.
A small thought.  There is no better way to develop a close relationship with a good supplier than by paying them on time and even early.  Your Finance Director might not approve but regular supplies from a trusted supplier can be lifeblood.
In the end, good relationships built over a period of time with promises being kept, good quality of the product and great service being given at all times will eventually lead to trust and that will be mutual.
Of course, the same applies right throughout the piece with whomsoever we come into contact.  Trust can only be developed in an atmosphere of visible and proven honesty and probity; a genuine desire to please and to fulfil needs with a consistency of approach which guarantees satisfaction.
It is not easy to reach this nirvana but the result is well worth the effort.  In the end, of course, we are talking about a consistency of values and culture which can only be driven into the business by the leader.
Why not start the process with a suppliers’ conference (and pay them on time)?

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Sunday, 5 August 2018

Stop Talking and DO SOMETHING! It’s All About Taking Action!

A big issue which is constantly in the minds of leaders is that there seems to be a vast amount of talk and discussion, meetings of every sort and interminable correspondences on email with everyone copied but in the end, nothing seems to have been accomplished.
All very frustrating and there needs to be a significant change in culture to make things happen.
When meetings become merely an exchange of reports on everyone’s personal position then some action needs to be taken to sort it out.  The amount of wasted time and hence cost can be monitored and I would guess would shock most people.
Add to that all the other wasted effort and we can see how the concept of LEAN thinking became so popular.
Wise business sages have always advocated approaches like customer focus, stakeholder focus, people first and many other but I want to put forward a new one and that is ACTION FOCUS.
It is self evident that talking and discussing within the top team is essential but I will always remember the instruction from Jim Slater, Chairman of Slater Walker and my business hero when he insisted that the minutes of all meetings at both Board level and below must include a statement of the action required, the person responsible and the date for completion.
Woe betide anyone who was tasked with taking some action and had to report at the next meeting that it hadn’t been done.  All sorts of excuses like, “I didn’t have the time”, or “If you want me to do that then something else will suffer” and so on, were heard and dismissed peremptorily.
The key is that until action is taken and visibly, then all the talking in the world won’t achieve anything.  Just ask delegates to climate change conferences.
Moreover, there is a strong case for making sure that the message has got through particularly at management level and we all know that a nod from the recipient doesn’t necessarily imply agreement or even understanding.
So a good idea when saying that something needs to be done, is to demonstrate rather than just saying what is needed, and then to ensure that the task is repeatable.  The military are very good at this with small arms training as an example.
Finally, don’t just make promises which will are remembered more in the failure to come up with the goods rather than successful fulfilment.  It is incumbent on the leader to engender trust in the team and that can only be successfully accomplished by proving rather than mere promising.  Not easy, but who ever said that the position of leader was easy?
All in all:
Don’t just talk: ACT
Don’t just say: DEMONSTRATE
Don’t just promise: PROVE

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