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Sunday, 29 January 2012

High Performing Individuals? No-one is as Smart as All of Us!

The Italian historian, thinker and writer, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) said with great prescience:

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him”.

What was said in the 15th century has absolute resonance today in business.  The success of any leader and, by default, the business is not so much the quality of the leader as such, but the calibre of the people around the leader.

Perhaps the most difficult task of any leader is that of building a team which can operate both independently and collectively in the pursuit of success, and at the same time ensuring that the prima donna syndrome is suborned to the greater good of the team and the business.

It can take time and effort.  I recall one of my Vistage members hiring three different Finance Directors in a single  year until he found the right one.  It was painful and frustrating but well worth the effort.  The final choice was exactly what had been needed and spurred the business on to bigger and greater things.

I have in the past mentioned my old friend, Lee Thayer, another deep and brilliant thinker who used to say that everyone hired into the business needed to be a virtuoso and a free spirit.  Easy to say but very difficult to achieve.

At the same time Lee suggested that the first line in everyone’s role description should read:

“My primary task is to make this business the best in the industry by any measure

What a wonderful objective for anyone.

Another of my Vistage members changed his job and went to a company which, courageously, hired exceptionally high quality people and then found a slot for them in the organisation.

It worked very well with one proviso.  As each of the people hired was remarkable in some respect, they tended to prefer to work individually and not in a team.  That is fine if you are simply looking for high performing individuals but not so good for team building.

It is interesting to read recently that the universities are beginning to look at group activities, unusually in an environment which has historically been devoted to development of the individual.  They have realised that the team ethic is more productive overall than can be achieved by a single person and are now spending time and effort in its development.

As we say in Vistage:  “No-one is a smart as all of us”.

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Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Selling Books Online? It Will Never Catch On, Will It?

Sad news this week as Eastman Kodak goes into administration saying that they were hit by the growth in digital cameras.  Question - why did they consider it to be competition?

Most leaders take a considered view of competition.  Some constantly look over their corporate shoulders at what they see as the competition, and others, rightly, leave the competition to worry about them.

It is very curious how some people look at the issue.  I recall a discount retailer telling me that unless he was the cheapest in the market, he would lose all his business.

That makes the assumption that the consumer buys only on price and would go from store to store looking for the lowest price.  Obviously arrant nonsense.

In another instance a client said the same thing so we checked his competitors’ prices and, what do you think, his were just about median in around 70 companies.  What is more the highest priced business was the market leader and had the highest market share.

However, the biggest problem in this online world is what would appear to be the easiest, and that is identifying your competitors.

Take, for example, the largest book retailer in the world (at the time), Barnes and Noble.  Easy for them to identify other book retailers, worldwide.  Unfortunately they didn’t see Amazon coming.  What is worse, they perceived Amazon to be both a shooting star that would burn out and an interloper in a business world that they thought was unchangeable.

People like to browse for books in conventional book shops don’t they, not buy sight unseen from the internet.  Sure they do and the book stores offer a handy way to look at a book and then buy online.

More and more this is happening and it is not simply because things are less expensive online.  It is not always the case and retailers need to understand that browsing and buying online is fast becoming a national pastime even if it could be construed as being morally reprehensible.

The biggest problem for the established businesses is the competitors emerging from left field, having had nothing to do with the sector in the past and often being completely unknown.

Look again at some of the businesses which have been successfully attacked; Barnes and Noble (and most other book retailers), Kodak, Blockbuster and many more.

The key is to realise that these changes are an opportunity, NOT the competition. They are part of the new world in which we live and we had better understand that they are not going to go away.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Tough Times? It’s The Spirit That Beats Adversity!

The BBC World Service runs a daily programme called Outlook, presented by the admirable Matthew Bannister, which scours the world for extraordinary and uplifting stories of people who have come through adversity and have, in many cases, have not only than survived but have prospered.

A recent programme, for instance, featured an Afghan woman who had opened a bowling alley (I kid you not!), a Saudi Princess speaking out against prejudice in the Kingdom and a Chinese man who had lost both his legs in an accident and had become a renowned sculptor.
It brought to mind a quote from the Roman philosopher, Cicero (106BC to 43BC) who said:
“The spirit is the true self. The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure”
What a great attitude with which to start a new year. 
Talking to one of my Vistage members yesterday, he said that when he is hiring someone, they go through all the obvious characteristics such as technology and experience, while he looks specifically for that spark that indicates a higher level of commitment and enthusiasm.
It is a manifestation of the spirit and can’t be assessed in any scientific way, nor perhaps should it be.   It implies that the individual has an approach to business and, indeed, to life in general, that is special.
These individuals are not always easy to manage but given a measure of freedom, their output can well justify the extra effort put into them.
In the end, it is the team that will deliver success and a group of high performing individuals can be a very exciting way to achieve that success.
It is useful to use the Belbin analysis of team types (contact me if you would like more information) to help ensure that there is balance in the team, but, in every case, it is talented people with the will to excel and win that we need above all else.
Get the right people on the bus, all facing in the same direction; they will make things happen.

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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Do You Keep In Touch With ALL Your Customers? If You Don’t, They Will Go Somewhere Else!

Some time ago I was retained by a client to do a marketing study for his business as, for some unknown (to him) reason, sales had fallen off and they were beginning to get a little nervous.  Ever felt like that?

The business was a manufacturer of fascias for shop fitters, made from moulded chipboard and then laminated.  For obvious reasons the majority of the work was bespoke and other than the name of the company, there was no branding of the product.

For a start, we looked in some detail at the sales ledger, a boring exercise on the face of it but very necessary. We looked at the past three year’s activity and found that they had dealt with a total of 815 customers in that period.

In the previous twelve months, they had done business with a total of 235 of the customer list.

Question – where had the other 580 customers gone for their supplies?

So, there was always the possibility that some of them were no longer in business, some had placed an order on a one-off basis and some had changed their requirements but all 580 of them?  It seemed very unlikely, so we hired two very experienced people to undertake a telephone exercise to see why customers had forsaken the client.

The results were surprising and, at the same time, obvious.  The great majority said that “we hadn’t heard from you” or that “another representative had come in to see us so we gave them the business” or that “we thought that you had gone out of business”..

The simple exercise of calling apparently dormant customers resulted in over 60 coming back and placing orders again.   We didn’t need to run the marketing study.

It was a great learning experience.  The customer list is a gold mine and we ignore it at our peril.  Yes, I know that Pareto would reveal that 20% of our customer base generates 80% of the turnover and probably the profit but if we don’t keep in contact with the customers. We will never know which of them are in growth mode and could well join the 20%.

Keeping in touch with customers is far easier than it used to be.  Social networking and judicious use of telephone marketing can ensure that we are up to date with what is happening in the market, and more particularly, to our customers.

Never forget that one of the most important functions of the leader is to visit customers from time to time, just to keep in touch and make them feel that they are not forgotten.  When there is little or no brand loyalty, this becomes absolutely essential.

That sales ledger is a gold mine of information and should be treated as such.  If another mixed metaphor can be allowed, build a wall round your customers so that they only think of you when they are in the market.

Great service, good products and constant contact will help you build that wall.

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

All Gloom and Doom in 2012? No Way - Plan to Have a Great Year!

This is the time of the year when the media fall over themselves to assess the year just gone and, heaven help us, try to predict what is going to happen in 2012.

Looking backwards is easy, of course.  It has been wisely said that many business people march bravely backwards into the future with their eyes firmly fixed on last year’s results.

I came across a neat little saying recently:

“Learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future”.

It has equally been said that we learn more (or should) from our mistakes than from our successes and some reflection on the last year with its problems and good times can be very helpful in determining where we are right now and where we are going. 

However, don’t fall into the trap enunciated by Albert Einstein, who was a philosopher as well as being a great physicist, when he defined insanity as doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different result.

Live in the present?  How easy it is to say that and in many cases how difficult it is to achieve.  Either we harp on about what we did in the past, how we ran our lives, how things “were better in those days”, or we look into the future without a thought as to how we can affect it; merely hoping that things will change for the better.

Unless we live life a second at a time it will pass us by without our noticing it or, more to the point, without enjoying every second that has been given to us.  Like golfer Sam Snead used to say “Take some time out to smell the roses”.

And the future?  Forecasting the future is as much use as trying to knit fog (as they used to say in my home town).  The future is in our own hands and rather than try to forecast what might happen, we need to plan, plan and plan again to define what sort of future we want and can achieve.

The great leaders know where they are going simply because they are planning to go there and have assessed what they specifically need to do in order to achieve their objectives .

Sure, it is likely to be a difficult year ahead but with some forethought  it is feasible to see where business growth can be achieved.  For example, marketing to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, and looking at the possibilities of two interesting opportunities; sustainable energy and agriculture, both of which will be essential as demand increases. 

There are now 7 billion souls on this planet and they all need a supply of energy and food.

Microsoft and Apple both started in business during a recession.  Ignore the gloom-mongers and naysayers in the media.  Let’s look at the possibilities for 2012 in a positive light; what we intend to achieve and where success can come. Then JFDI!

May you all have a happy, peaceful, healthy and very successful 2012!

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