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Take Care of Business by Posting Sincere Quarterly Results While Building Long-term Value

Balanced Shareholder Value Technological progress over the last decade—especially in communications—has accelerated the expansion of commerce, the creation of wealth, and the pace of living.

Consider a few statistics. There are now 15,000 communications service providers operating worldwide; just one decade ago, there were less than 1,000. Last year, enough fiber optic cable was laid to encircle the earth some 400 times. Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days. Nearly 350 million people are already online worldwide with 100 million more expected to join them in 2001. Buying and selling on the Internet, or ecommerce, has reached $700 billion worldwide—and is expected to approach $7 trillion in five years.

Technology and Growth

The technology industry has played a central role in contributing to this growth. Technology company is creating the systems and technologies that will make the Internet mobile and able to do things we can only dream of today. With the phenomenal growth of the Internet, the penetration of cable television and the rise of wireless communications, we live in a world where fact-based information, tailored to our individual tastes, is available 24/7 wherever we are. That is the bright side. On the darker side, the same technology is also delivering us rumors, innuendo, and blatant misinformation.

Pressures of Instant Information on Stockholders With our robust economy, expectations for a better life have never been higher. However, in many cases, high expectations give way to instant gratification and outright greed. Overnight wealth is now part of pop culture. The objective of corporations is to create wealth for shareowners by delivering products and services that customers find of value. You cannot do that if employees are in a free-for-all to undermine their colleagues. Creating value is a far different game than scheming to be the last person standing. And it requires far different behavior to succeed.

In any institution, you can find people who are out for personal gain at the expense of the enterprise. However, the lack of integrity catches up with them. It always does. At the same time, the business world does have its problems, real as well as perceived, including events that raise questions about corporate behavior.

Accidents happen. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was an accident. Manufacturing errors happen. That’s why Bridgestone and Ford are in the headlines today. And sabotage happens. How companies respond to these crises determines the size and healing time of the blemish on their reputations. Companies, like Johnson & Johnson, that are proactive and completely open with the public, recover fast.

Corporate reputations always seem to be under scrutiny. Corporations owe something to their workers, the communities in which they operate, shareowners, and other constituencies. Shortly after I joined technology company, the company held its annual Global Days of Caring—a worldwide employee volunteer effort in which tens of thousands of technology company people participate in worthwhile community projects, ranging from cleaning up parks, beaches and playgrounds, to assisting at childcare, senior citizen centers and homeless shelters. Making a difference in communities has become a central part of technology company’s culture.

Pressures of Instant Information on Stockholders

But meeting the needs of shareowners, employees, and the community is increasingly difficult, because companies face new pressures that are created by the combination of instant information and the growing notion of instant gratification by investors.

A few years ago, business could plan and execute for the long term. Sometimes that meant making sacrifices in the short term that retarded bottom-line growth for a quarter or two. But such sacrifices had the potential to create breakthroughs in technology that could change an industry, the way my company did with the invention of the transistor, lasers, and fiber optics—technologies that spawned new industries.

If a company was strong and had a reputation for making successful transitions and delivering value to customers, investors tended to show patience because they understood that efforts were being make for the long-term health of the business.

How to Beat Wall Street Reliably Today, instead of the idea of who will win in the long term, the market is focused on who’s winning this quarter, who’s winning today. Business has become a spectator sport, a high-stakes game that is played out daily by people who watch corporate box scores scroll across their PCs and television sets, by people who place instant online bets that are based on breaking news, rumors, or the body language of a CEO on CNBC’s Squawk Box—all designed to feed into Wall Street, which has become a casino as millions of new players ante up for the next deal.

Business journalists and financial analysts have the power to cut a company’s market value in half with a single negative comment, or instantly drive its value up with a glowing report.

With the constant bombardment of gossip, rumor, and sometimes deliberately misleading information, it has become increasingly difficult to determine what legitimate business news is.

The temptation to manipulate the system is as strong as the opportunity to do so. At Technology company technologies, we have regular contact with many financial analysts. In addition, the people we deal with are trying to do the right things. But they are under severe pressure in a world that’s been sped up and turned upside down. Their reputations have been built on solid analysis of income statements and balance sheets. That’s how value used to be determined. Now Internet upstarts with small revenue streams and losses instead of earnings can have huge market valuations. How do you analyze these companies and make recommendations to investors?

How to Beat the Street Reliably

'Investor Relations For the Emerging Company' by Ralph Rieves (ISBN 0230341969) Compounding the difficulty is the sheer speed of the market rollercoaster. One analyst recently said, “We live 12-week lives,” living quarter to quarter with the companies he is covering. That’s not healthy. That 12-week life involves predicting an earnings number with factors such as a company’s strength, the market’s strength, as well as a company’s own guidance on what it expects to deliver. They sit on the sidelines, watching and waiting. Meanwhile, companies are on the field competing—driving their businesses toward the finish line. They’re under phenomenal pressure to perform well and cross the finish line with increasingly higher results. It’s not enough to deliver what’s expected. The system rewards companies who under-promise and over-deliver. That’s the only way to consistently beat the Street’s expectations.

Not only are there expectations of a specific earnings number, there are expectations of a precision in delivering the number. In effect, the system is demanding perfect execution in every 12-week period. We have arrived at the age of instant analysis and sound bites that can cause major tremors in the market.

This is the reality companies face today as they work to serve their customers and build value for their owners clearly pressures are great to deliver strong quarterly performance—to “beat the Street”—and to do it consistently to keep the stock price rising.

Stock price was always the key measure of a company’s long-term health. But today stocks have become a strategic weapon. Stocks are the new currency for acquisitions of companies, technologies, and employees to bolster a firm’s competitive capabilities. Your stock price puts you in a position to be the parent or the acquired. Also, the value of a stock has a major impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain employees. Upstart Internet companies that are preparing to go public can be a huge temptation. Much is riding on quarterly performance. In striving not to disappoint Wall Street, companies are tempted to make short-term decisions that could be harmful in the long term. Worse, some companies are under such heavy pressure in the competition for investor dollars that they feel compelled to overstate their market performance and exaggerate their potential. So they provide a set of lenses for the fortunetellers. Sometimes it’s a microscope. Sometimes it’s a telescope. And very often it’s a kaleidoscope. Politicians call it “spin doctoring.” And some businesses have honed it into an art form.

'Using Investor Relations to Maximize Equity Valuation' by Thomas Ryan (ISBN 047167852X) If it works, it’s easier to do it a second time and a third time, until it becomes an addictive drug. Many companies have been on drugs. It’s time to get off them and begin managing their businesses, instead of managing their stock price. It’s a lot easier to cling to your values when you’re riding high. But the true test of a company’s character comes when it stumbles.

I believe that it’s the job of senior corporate leaders to step up to this challenge—to change the game by striking the right balance between the long- and short-term decisions that produce lasting health for companies. Business leaders must refuse to be drawn into shortsighted decisions that are driven by the media frenzy. They must resist being dragged to center-stage in the spectator sport that business has become. Business leaders have been entrusted to build strong companies by growing real value through innovating and delivering products that change the way people live and work. Instead of concentrating on what’s needed to make analysts happy, leaders should be focused of what they can do to serve their customers better. In the long-term that could mean facing up to the prospect of short-term pain if it’s necessary to sustain long-term gain.

Creating Balanced Shareholder Value Over the Long Term

Creating Balanced Shareholder Value Over the Long Term The system may be out of control, but the future is not. Value is not created overnight or over a 12-week period. Value comes from creating products and services that meet market needs. That’s not a short-term proposition. Companies experience vicissitudes. The fast pace of today’s marketplace requires constant adjustments and transitions. Often, companies that go through those transitions will pay the price for a quarter or two. But if they perform well, they come back quickly because of the bandwagon mentality of Wall Street’s fortunetellers.

Every year Fortune magazine compiles a list of America’s most admired companies. The criteria for the list range from long-term investment value to social responsibility. They are also viewed as the best places to work. These companies are taking care of business and meeting the needs of their shareowners, their customers, and their employees. And doing so has paid off. The top 10 percent of Fortune‘s list of most admired companies did twice as well in the stock market as the bottom 10 percent. That’s encouraging, because it says that in the end, good companies will always justify their value as long as they do the right things the right way.

Assess how well you balance short-term expediency and long-term growth.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Engage in a Constructive Leadership Dialogue

Conduct Soul-searching Interviews with Outsiders

Engage in a Constructive Leadership Dialogue If you are a leader, what is your most important job? As stated by John Kotter, leaders groom organizations for transformation and help them manage as they struggle through it. That is their foremost job. However, how do they go about doing it? Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said: “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.”

Evidently, setting a direction for the future is an important aspect of leadership. Telling what the organization should become in the long term and how it should get there becomes the foremost duty. Soon after taking the helm of IBM, Lou Gerstner announced, “The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” Some people nailed his hide to the wall for that statement. He explains that reporters dropped the words “right now” from his statement. Gerstner felt that IBM was long on vision statements, but short on getting the job done. Fixing the company was all about execution.

Creating a Culture of Leadership

Execution is nothing but aligning people, motivating them, and creating a culture of leadership. Kotter contrasts execution with equally important but managerial duties such as planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. The value of a wonderful strategy is only achieved when it is carried out. And it is the people who make the grand vision a reality. That’s why, as Jack Welch points out, leaders need to make it a priority to plant and nourish talented people at every level.

If you lead a big organization like General Electric, you might have assets at your disposal like the GE John F. Welch Leadership Center at Crotonville, the world’s first major corporate business school. Here everyone from important customers and partners to present and future GE leaders come together to identify opportunities and debate issues. But few organizations have the resources to invest like GE. They can’t operate a dedicated leadership center.

Creating a Culture of Leadership The constraint of a smaller budget is hardly an excuse to not operate key levers that drive superior performance in people. Going back to Welch’s garden analogy, some aspects of cultivation are free, such as sunshine. But how you choose to orient your garden in relationship to the sun makes all the difference. If you place your garden under a large shade tree, you cut it off from necessary nourishment.

While a leader needs to have a strong sense of the direction, cultivating new culture by changing people’s frame of mind and behaviors is the hardest part. In doing so, they can follow the profit-at-any-price model by relying on fear, pressure, and greed, or they can follow a more sensible leadership model based on inspiration, motivation, and enthusiasm.

Four Bad Leadership Models

Even leaders who articulate a convincing vision, inspire followers, and display passion and courage to take on challenges can have wasteful traits that limit them. These tend to manifest themselves in four ways:

  • Know-it-alls: They start believing that they know and do this better than anybody, and believe that they don’t need others as much as others need them. So they tend to treat others as dispensable and tune them out.
  • Micromanagers: They get mired in minutiae and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. By measuring too much, they measure nothing.
  • Perfectionists: They spend too much time doing things right rather than doing the right things, thereby losing focus. They take any constructive feedback as a direct hit and return what they see as not-so-friendly fire.
  • Detached: They become emotionally distant and lose the intimacy and connection to other people. To any push-back, they respond: “Tough! If I can do it, so can you.”

When these behaviors occur, the results follow quickly: Any constructive confrontation within the executive team ends almost immediately. Honest exchange of ideas on options and their pros and cons ceases. What is happening on the ground to the foot soldiers becomes irrelevant. The pressure people feel becomes unbearable. The “guilt trip” that nobody else is pulling their weight becomes harder to take. Any semblance of work-life balance is lost. Conversations become one-way streets, and people feel like glorified order-takers. It seems like they have ceded all authority to the boss.

The leader is quickly surrounded by loyal sycophants in the inner circle who simply want to ride the coattails. Everyone else is in the outer circle-albeit with more self-esteem, yet fearful to say that the emperor has no clothes. Soon people start telling the leader what the leader wants to hear, lest their heads are chopped off. Collaboration comes to a grinding halt, and providing lip service becomes the politically correct thing to do. Everyone looks out for themselves, and any mutually shared goals, if they exist, take a back seat. Any sense of intimacy, camaraderie, and belonging on the team becomes non-existent.

Any concept of a team breaks down. Any sense of empowerment evaporates. The vision of the leader becomes a pipe dream. The strategic plan to get there suddenly has strong disbelievers. The short-term results, obtained through draconian measures, become harder to sustain. As Michael Maccoby notes: “Narcissistic leaders can self-destruct and lead their people astray.” So, there is plenty of leadership, but little followership.

Foster Competencies to Compete in the Future

Foster Competencies to Compete in the Future A key challenge for leaders competing for the future is to foster competencies that provide access to tomorrow’s opportunities. Further, as discussed by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad in Competing for the Future, leaders need to find innovative applications of the current competencies. Leaders must objectively assess and proactively improve the caliber of the executive team and the organization as a whole.

However, before a leader can assess the caliber of the executive team, he must take stock of his own. Surveys—whether leadership or 360 degree—are popular and necessary, but rarely tell the leader the whole story. Objective, confidential, and focused interviews by an outsider with each individual on the executive team can deliver unvarnished truth-rich information about what’s really happening behind closed doors. Is there a true strategic alignment? How is the leadership style perceived? How much constructive confrontation occurs? Do people collaborate or simply provide lip service? Is everyone pulling in the same direction?

There are five prerequisites to getting the most from these interviews:

  1. Right reason. First, conduct the interviews for the right reason: improving leadership by eliminating unproductive behaviors. If the hidden agenda is to vilify non-performers or to find scapegoats, the approach backfires.
  2. Objectivity. You need an objective outsider to hold the mirror. This person must not be afraid to find out the truth and tell it like it is.
  3. Confidentiality. The interviews have to be treated as confidential, and the interviewer can’t make any direct attribution to a specific individual. Despite all the talk about openness, blackballing is still a common practice.
  4. Specificity. While recognizing that everyone’s reality is different, the interviews have to focus on direct observations, experiences, and involvement rather than hearsay.
  5. Commitment. There must be a commitment to develop an action plan at the individual and team level.

If these criteria are met, the insights gained from interviews can help create a high-performance culture. The honest feedback and recommendations can raise the candor and constructive dialogue.

Baseball manager Tommy Lasorda said leading people is like holding a dove in your hand. “If you hold it too tightly, you kill it; but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” Finding that delicate balance between providing nourishment and pulling weeds is the key to effective leadership. But it begins with looking in the mirror.

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Posted in Leaders and Innovators

Tap the Power of Your Viral Customers

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors Whether you are aware of it or not, customers are talking about you this very minute. They are offering opinions, trading experiences, and influencing other customers about you—your company, products, services, and reputation.

Welcome to the world of the “viral customer,” the turbocharged version of the word-of-mouth customer. If you’re not aware of your company’s viral customers, you need to be. If you haven’t geared your company to their growing influence, you had better start now. These talkative, influential customers will play a critical role in the future of your marketing schemes, loyalty programs, customer service efforts, public relations outreach, brand management, privacy policies, and bottom line.

The Internet has created a generation of so-called “viral customers.” Viral customers can be champions or destroyers. They can talk trash about you or trumpet your worth. Which route they take depends on you.

  • If customers are happy with their encounters with you, they are likely to tell lots of their friends. In essence, they become viral ambassadors who will rave about your company to others to create a gush of goodwill. These ambassadors can be valuable, low-cost avenues for building existing relationships, recruiting new customers and keeping old customers happy for life.
  • But if customers are not satisfied, watch out. So-called “viral rebels” can destroy your products, brands, and reputation as they share negative experiences. Moreover, at the moment of negative feedback, they’re likely to be in a “switch mode,” ready to find someone else to satisfy them in ways that your company hasn’t or won’t.

Are you paying attention to what your own viral customers are saying and doing? We’ve found that some companies and industries are more “viral” than others. Customers are much more likely to pass along opinions to others about insurance firms, health maintenance companies, utilities, banks, long-distance and wireless telephone companies, mail delivery services, Internet service providers and auto manufacturers.

What’s at stake is more than the lifetime value of a single customer. Everyone in the viral rebel’s sphere of influence is also at stake, because even though the original customer may walk away from you, he or she is not necessarily finished. The bad-mouthing continues. Suddenly, one person’s negative encounter becomes everyone’s shared experience, and you’re left to pick up the pieces, re-establish ties, win confidence, and regain long-term loyalty.

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others Certain brands elicit highly viral customer buzz. Billing issues typically fly off the virility chart. Other hot-button issues involve safety among automakers, baggage claim among airlines, customer service at e-commerce sites, hygiene at restaurants, and staff attitude at retail stores.

If you listen to your viral customers, you will know whether your marketing budget is based on the correct assumptions. You’ll be able to apply one-to-one marketing principles to customer feedback, making your customer insight even richer and more robust. You will know which brands are working. You’ll know your company customer service record, because you will have real-time feedback from the customers. You will identify trouble spots or opportunities well in advance, enabling you to take advantage of positive feedback or stop negative feedback before it explodes.

As you analyze the customer insight you receive, you become wiser and more adaptable, smarter and better able to react, respond, and retool. You start giving customers what they want—easy and convenient communication. They want to be heard. They want to help others, and they want a forum that fits their propensity to rant or rave.

In a world governed by customer insight, all feedback is gold and every complaint is a gift. Raw data guides us, but insight that has quality and meaning enlightens us. Anticipation beats perspiration, and the only way to know what is around the next bend is to pay attention to the curve as it develops.

Here’s five things you can do to tap the power of viral customers:

  • Identify them. Viral customers communicate with you frequently by e-mail, letter or phone. They send copies to others, are passionate or emotional about their experiences and are among the first to try new products or services.
  • Make communication easy. Offer as many ways as possible for customers to get in touch with you-a toll-free phone number, Web-site e-mail address, third-party feedback service, street address or special mailing address.
  • Respond quickly. Respond quickly and in the same fashion. Be empathetic.
  • Mine the negative comments. Respond decisively so that the customer decides to remain in your camp. Don’t give a reason to bolt to the competition.
  • Build the relationship. Add communicative customers to a preferred-customer list. Extend special offers, ask their input on new products and services, and ask how you can improve the relationship. The more you integrate the relationship, the stronger it will be.
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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

Putting Your Creativity to Work and Improving the Bottom Line

Fostering Creativity at Work

Fostering Creativity at Work When the going gets tough, many companies cut costs, cling to tradition, and stay under radar. Such reaction is short-sighted. There are lessons to be learned from companies like HP, Virgin, Disney, and other innovators who not only stay the course through uncertainty, but excel. The most innovative companies don’t take cover—they get going. They embrace creativity and innovation in both good times and tough times.

Creativity helps us reinvent when faced with opportunity and survive when faced with challenges. Creative people find new solutions and enjoy a timeless advantage.

What characterizes a company? Its people, process, values, size, resources—or maybe it’s an unorthodox approach to business.

Few companies even begin to embrace the power of creativity and reinvention. Yet we see bold possibilities. We see signs of a new era where creativity drives the bottom line—where business escapes tradition and embraces new practices that nurture the cultural creative mindset.

A Time for Unleashing Your Creativity at Work

Rule-breakers tend to be the more nimble upstarts.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said: “Today business is about the resiliency of ideas. It’s about rallying people and the ideas of people.” Companies don’t simply want to make a better product; they want to dramatically transform their culture to lead their industry. The best organizations are committing more people, resources, time and money to increasing creativity and innovation. It’s a smart investment.

Look at Eli Lilly. Instead of churning constantly inside the company to generate new ideas, they’ve reinvented scientific research and created a free market of ideas. The company founded Inno-Centive, a web-based community of problem-solvers and solution-seekers. They tap scientific minds worldwide to create solutions for financial reward.

Success can no longer be sustained with incremental improvements; we must find new sources of growth to leap forward in much wider measure.

Why is Creativity Important in the Workplace: Creativity and the Bottom Line

Creativity and the Bottom Line Although it is difficult to measure creativity’s impact on the bottom line, we see that four benchmarks make or break the bottom line:

  1. Profitability. A creative company produces more great ideas that impact the bottom line. Better product = sales; efficient method = savings; better service = more customers. Hanes recognized this when they reinvented the T-shirt. The Hanes Tagless Tee shirt is the first innovation in the industry in 10 years.
  2. Industry leadership. Leading companies innovate for the long-term. They are visionary, looking at the future with a wide lens. Today’s rapid pace of change means companies can no longer deliver the same products and services in the same way for long. As technology services evolved, IBM, Compaq, and Intel all had to transform their business models. Fox News helped reinvent the cable news industry, repositioning itself as a lively, in-your-face opinion page. And it became the number-one cable news outlet. Innovate or get left behind.
  3. Retention. A more creative culture equates to happier employees. Creative companies embrace more humanistic values, like leadership support, risk tolerance, individual expression, and intrinsic motivation. Peter Coy, Business Week columnist, writes: “In the Creative Economy, the most important intellectual property isn’t software or music or movies. It’s the ideas inside employees’ heads. Leaders create an environment that makes the best people want to stay.”
  4. Motivation. When people feel their ideas are valued they contribute more to the company. Creative companies have a people-first approach, embracing attributes like autonomy and personal challenge. Winnebago discovered this with their innovation program. Every Friday, Winnebago CEO Bruce Hertzke hands out dividend-savings checks and has his photo taken with employees who have made revenue or savings suggestions. Over 10,300 ideas have been implemented, and employees have received $500,000 for their ideas. Employee creativity saved the company $5.5 million in the first year alone. Yet people are primarily motivated by intrinsic reward.

Leaders must balance financial rewards with recognition, rewarding work, and enrichment from the culture. Brainstorming is just one technique. It even has variants. Such methods can be useful in creating food for thought. Also has the advantage of including staff and encouraging an innovative thinking environment—if done well.

Finally, let’s not forget basic business survival. Creativity is required to innovate but it’s also necessary to keep the pipeline full and move forward.

Fostering Creativity at Work: The Ultimate Measure of Value

Executives who are committed to increasing creativity and innovation must first accept this universal rule: Creativity requires a new mindset, which is produced only from cultural transformation.

Leaders must accept that development of human capital requires a greater investment than other types of capital—in terms of money, time, and commitment. The ultimate measure of a company’s value is its people. In creativity, everything comes down to people. Dick Brown, CEO of EDS, puts it this way: “Most business leaders are more comfortable with numbers. While I am very numbers-focused, you can’t change a business with numbers. Numbers are the end result. You change a business by changing the behavior of its people.”

Yet it’s not enough to hire a few creative people or hold an off-site meeting in hopes of finding an innovation “quickfix.” Leaders must rebuild the culture, align the systems, and develop the knowledge of the company. Leaders must care for, nurture, and sustain the culture. They must rediscover their child-like imagination, find their passion, surprise people, and be a little unorthodox.

Guiding Strategies for Enhancing Creativity at Work

Strategies for Enhancing Creativity at Work Here are some strategies to guide the creative leader:

  • Nurture creativity from the top down and bottom up by finding champions in the ranks of junior positions and senior executives.
  • Encourage “skinned knees” by developing a risk-tolerant culture that values the mindset of creativity and rewards both behavior and results.
  • Enact intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for creativity that value the balance of knowledge and imagination.
  • Redesign structures to allow for free flow of ideas. Divisions often work differently from one another. Create venture groups, autonomous communities, and flexible innovation processes.
  • Allow employees to venture out and learn about the world they serve. Many innovations fail because people don’t understand the customer.
  • Create new ways of learning and reward it. Jack Welch says, “You raise the collective intellect by learning, sharing learning, and acting on that learning.”
  • Increase accountability and recognition for breakthrough ideas that create new sources of growth.
  • Create a new language for creativity that infuses the culture with fresh, simple, goal-focused vernacular.
  • Walk the talk. Deliver on the vision and promises through committed action. Redesign performance measurement and talent management in line with innovation.
  • Surprise people. Do new things in new ways and be curious, energetic, passionate, and open-minded. Use this research as the basis for highly focused idea-generation sessions.

The most creative companies aren’t always the cutest companies. Creativity does not equal whimsy—or any other idiosyncrasy of the extinct dot-com cultures. Fun is an important part of it; people can’t be inspired when they’re bored in tedium. Yet creativity is so much more. In fact, it’s really hard work. The common thread is that inspiration strikes people in different ways at different, and often unexpected, times.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Leaders and Innovators

Use the Theory of Constraints to Create a Viable Vision

Any complex system is based on inherent simplicity

Strategic Vision is Viable

Viable vision is the opportunity of a company to have, within four years, annual net profit equal to its current total sales. Any complex system is based on intrinsic simplicity. Capitalizing on the inherent simplicity empowers incredible improvements within a short time. The more data needed to designate fully a system, the more complex it is. Enumerating reductions in total systems costs that are often heart to the customer company is also difficult. Most companies, even small ones, are complex and accordingly challenging to manage. The few elements commanding the performance of the system are the restrictions or advantage points —the Theory of Constraints.

When I scrutinize a company, I am rather fulfilled only when I clearly see how it is possible to bring the company to have, within four years, annual net profit equal to its current total sales. That is what I mean by a “viable vision.” In emergent markets such as China and India, clients want decent quality products that are simple to install, use, and maintain.

I am careful when sharing this anticipation with the top management; I expose the reasons why I believe this vision is viable. I share my analysis of what is obstructive performance. Using logic, I deduce the steps that will eradicate that block. Then I detail the steps to take to capitalize on that breakthrough. In this way, the reaction of top managers is, “This is common sense. Why aren’t we doing it?”

Capitalizing on Strategic Simplicity

Any complex system is based on inherent simplicity. Capitalizing on the inherent simplicity enables implausible improvements within a short time.

The more data needed to describe fully a system, the more complex it is. These infringements come at a significant cost to the organization, since too much time spent on day-to-day details can endanger future growth.

How complex is the system you manage? How many pages are needed to describe every process and the relationships with each client? Most companies, even small ones, are complex and thus tough to manage.

We manage a complex system by dissecting it into subsystems that are less complex. However, this can lead to miss-synchronization, harmful local optima, and the silo mentality. Since our systems are compound, we might think that all we can do is to improve synchronization and nurture collaboration between the subsystems. Public corporations are required to maximize their return to shareholders—not to customers. If this is the only option we contemplate, we will believe that achieving a major jump in profit within a short time is a rarity. We will think that creating net profit equal to current total sales in less than four years is unrealistic.

Leaders of successful innovation exertions are gifted visionaries. To see the potential of a company, we need to realize that the thing that makes our system difficult to manage is that what is done in one place has complications in other places; the cause-and-effect relationships turn our system into a maze. Strategically central issues and opportunities can occur at any time, and they cannot always wait for the next planning cycle or off-site to roll around. However, that fact also provides the key to the solution. This model had served them well. However, they began conjecturing about their organization in the future. They began to wonder if the model would work when the commodity that was being passed around was information, not metal.

Examine a system and ask, what is the minimum number of points we must impact to impact the whole system? If the answer is “10 points,” this is a challenging system to manage because it has too many degrees of freedom. However, if the answer is “one point,” this system is easy to manage.

Theory of Strategic Constraints - Strategic Wisdom

Now, the more interdependence between the components of the system, the fewer degrees of freedom the system has. However, the realities and the consequences of how they actually use their time are often quite different. Bearing in mind the complexity of your system, only a few elements govern the entire system. The more composite the system, the more profound is its essential simplicity.

To capitalize on the inherent simplicity, we must identify those few elements that govern the system. In addition, if we clarify the cause-and-effect relationships among all elements of the system, we can manage the system to achieve higher performance.

Companies turn out to be too focused on executing today’s business model and stop thinking about the fact that business models are perishable. Because companies’ decision-making systems are designed to push investments to initiatives that offer the most perceptible and immediate returns, companies shortchange investments in initiatives that are imperative to their long-term strategies.

Theory of Strategic Constraints

The few elements dictating the performance of the system are the constraints or advantage points-the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

In this school of management, we are qualified never to bring forward problems without a recommended solution. The marketing and strategy of companies is in it’s not luck. They have to be streetwise but not necessarily wise in other ways. They need to be fledgling and without much need for sleep. If you read these books, you will agree that the conclusions are horse sense, even though they fly in the face of common practice. Moreover, if you put it into practice, you experience remarkable improvements in a short time.

Is a viable vision possible for your company? Is it feasible to have, within four years, yearly net profit equal to its current yearly sales? The complications are discouraging. For example, such profitability is impossible without a huge increase in sales, and this is doable only if you have a remarkable new offer accepted by your markets. Can such an offer exist? Can you produce on such an offer? What investments will be needed? In addition, is your team capable of implementing such a change?

You do not have to coin your own phrase, but if you can find a simple, clear concept at the core of your policy, and if you can get others to appreciate it, then you are on your way to forming nuggets of you of strategic wisdom. A winning, stupendous concept will keep a team positively focused and sustain it during the inescapable disappointments and trying times.

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Five Criteria by Which Customers Judge Service Quality

Five Criteria by Which Customers Judge Service Quality

  1. Reliability: Consistency in performance dependability. Examples: accuracy in billing, keeping records correctly, performing the service at the designated time.
  2. Tangibles: Physical evidence of the service. Examples: physical features, appearance of personnel, tools used to provide the service.
  3. Responsiveness: employees’willingness or readiness to provide service. Examples: mailing the transaction slip immediately, calling back the customer quickly, giving prompt service.
  4. 'Raving Fans' by Ken Blanchard (ISBN 0688123163) Assurance: employees’ knowledge and ability to convey trust and confidence. Examples: Knowledge and skill of contact personnel, company name or reputation, personal trait or contact personnel
  5. Empathy: caring and individualized attention to customers. Examples: learning customers’ specific requirements, consideration for the customers.

Read this popular book: Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

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How to Enfranchise Customers in the E-commerce Era

Putting customers back in the equation

How to Enfranchise Customers in the E-commerce Era The internet has dramatically advanced the ways business can deliver products and services, and meet customer needs. However, while e-business has succeeded at leveraging technology to enhance business productivity, it has done little to enfranchise customers. Countless web sites that aim to provide a seamless shopping experience simply are not designed for the needs of the user. Customers needing support often have to abandon their shopping carts to get their questions answered. Many end up turning to the phone to get the information they need, or they just give up. Most e-businesses lack the human touch.

Customer needs will continue to change as technology plays a greater role in our lives. To be successful in the future, businesses will have to add the customer viewpoint into the equation, and seek to satisfy unmet customer needs. Rather than concentrating on e-business, companies will need to reorganize as c-businesses, orienting their operations around customer need sets across all channels and touch points, from the perspective of all products and services, and for each customer group, whether on the consumer level, small businesses, or large enterprises.

Six Drivers of Change in eCommerce

Let’s examine these emerging customer need sets, the drivers of change, and how certain businesses are prospering in the new c-business age.

  1. Information overload. The Web has unleashed a plethora of information. The result of this easy access to information is that people are seeking knowledge in context. Presenting data in the context of the customer’s needs transforms it and makes it far more valuable. The financial services company USAA doesn’t inundate its clients with sales pitches and junk mail. It takes a highly targeted marketing approach based on major events in them customers’ lives. When you’re about to buy a house, have a baby, or send a child off to college, USAA will contact you with information about products and services tailored for these needs.
  2. Six Drivers of Change in eCommerce More choices. Today, there is a wider variety of goods and services than ever before. This surfeit of choices is leading people to demand more personalized service and customized goods. Look at cars. Henry Ford told his customers they could get a Model T “in any color you want, as long as it’s black.” The computer industry long took the same approach-only this time with beige. Apple changed the landscape with its iMac, providing consumers with true choice. But Mac enthusiasts still have a hard time getting options they want built right into their systems. Dell, on the other hand, customizes virtually every PC it sells to its customers’ specifications. As advances in technology and manufacturing make it easier for firms to tailor their offerings, customers will increasingly expect personalized service.
  3. Automation. It has become possible for businesses to automate nearly every aspect of the customer interaction. This increase in automation leaves most of us with a yen for the human touch. But for corporations to deliver quality, human scale service, customers will need to make concessions in terms of privacy. Smart e-businesses will prove to their customers that these sacrifices will be worth it. Already, enterprises with good “corporate memory” are succeeding. Consider FedEx, which provides a reassuring presence by putting kiosks in the offices of their best customers. FedEx also provides real value through its Web site by letting customers track deliveries.
  4. 'Ecommerce Evolved' by Tanner Larsson (ISBN 1534619348) Pervasiveness. The pervasiveness of information and services is another driver of change. Having the capability to get whatever you want, whenever you want it is driving a need for control and integration. For example, we can get email on wireless handhelds, and order groceries online. However, is anybody helping people remember what’s supposed to be on their grocery shopping list? Webvan has made inroads in this area, but they still must overcome entrenched shopping habits. As these platforms develop, they provide resources essential for national growth and reduce the market inefficiencies that slow the pace of development.
  5. New pricing models. A heightened awareness of value is the direct result of new pricing models and pressures. Customers don’t necessarily look for the best prices, but they do look for value. In the airline industry declines in service and fluid pricing models have made it difficult for people to determine what is and what isn’t a good deal. Companies that can clearly define their value proposition are having more success in meeting customer expectations and needs.
  6. New entrants in the marketplace. New entrants can now establish themselves in the marketplace with relative ease. Barriers to entry are so much lower now that business can expand into new sectors virtually overnight. For customers, this leads to increased choices, but it also raises questions of trust. Customers look for clues that they can rely on their provider, which is why companies need to build trust through their online and offline presences.

Determine How You Can Deliver Better Attention, Choice, and Value in E-commerce

E-business may have radically changed the ways companies and people buy goods and services, but the essential elements of the buyer/seller equation are timeless. Customers want personal attention, they want choice, and they want good value. Solving the marketer’s dilemma will not be easy.

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FedEx’s ZapMail Service: Failure to Foresee

Innovation is Not Without Risk

How Federal Express's Zapmail System Works

One of the defining characteristics of great leaders is their knack for seeing into the future.

Innovation is not without risk. There are plenty examples of failures at companies. However, on the other side of the coin, if you’re too cautious and too late—all you have is a dinosaur business. Navigating that fine line between risk and innovation is very important.

FedEx's Zapmail System Case in Point: ZapMail Service was a system that used fax machines at FedEx offices to transmit documents for clients in different cities. After being introduced in 1983, when FedEx was known as Federal Express, the service was soon eclipsed by the rise of fax machines priced cheaply enough that most offices could purchase their own. In addition, ZapMail was based on satellite technology, which needed the space shuttle to work effectively. However, the space shuttle blew up, dealing a body blow to FedEx’s plans. FedEx folded ZapMail in 1986, taking a costly write-off.

No Innovation Without Experimentation

Commenting about FedEx’s ability to integrating new acquisitions into its fold after its purchase of Paul Orfalea’s Kinko’s franchise, journalist Michael Copeland commented in the Autumn-2006 issue of Booz & Company’s Strategy & Leadership magazine:

As with other acquisitions, Fred Smith saw something in Flying Tigers and American Freightways that others didn’t because his point of focus lay far beyond theirs. Mr. Smith doesn’t always get it right when he looks into the future. His expensive and ultimately failed experiment in ZapMail, a dedicated fax network that couldn’t compete in the early 1980s with the new, inexpensive consumer fax machines, is proof. “A guy like Fred Smith doesn’t build a company like FedEx without taking some risks and making some mistakes,” says Mr. Hatfield, the Morgan Keegan analyst, “but clearly the successes far outweigh the failures.”

Federal Express's Zapmail System There can be no innovation without experimentation, and there can be no experimentation without the risk failure. In addition, taking risk goes against the grain of many companies’ cultures. In the corporate world, there are powerful incentives for people to play it safe. However, leaders must work particularly hard to offset these forces and give their teams the consent to fail and the assurance to make their case and go out on a limb. Leaders must not only promote experimentation, but also encourage people to terminate faster on projects that are not working without fear of reprisal. That is to repeat the cliche “fail, but fail as fast as possible” and take the lessons learned to the next experiment.

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Marketing Demographics by Age

Marketing Demographics by Age

Companies seeking long-term business growth can find it by emphasizing the earning power of young workers, near-retirees, and women.

We all want to be treated equally and fairly during the buying and service process, regardless of our age. Let’s examine how you, as a service provider, can give exceptional service by understanding the needs and values of each age group.

Marketing to The Veterans

Marketing to The Veterans These people were born before 1943. Their beliefs and values include: Everyone should adhere and conform to the same rules, regulations, and policies. Those who are older or in positions of authority automatically deserve respect. Patience is an important virtue. The bigger the better. Personal pleasure is secondary to job responsibilities and tasks.

To win them over as a lifetime customers, make them feel special by remembering their name. Honor them by calling them Mr. or Mrs. or Sir and Ma’am. Thank them for their patronage with a personal note. Add a personal touch, and show genuine interest in them as a person.

Marketing to The Boomers

Marketing to The Boomers These people were born between 1943 and 1960. Their beliefs include: If it’s not working, either fix it or move on and find something better. They value personal growth, health, and wellness. They are optimistic. They believe they are the star and deserve center stage.

To keep them as lifetime customers, provide service that treats them as individuals, not just clients. Be personable. They value personal relationships that grow with time. Be solution oriented. If you can’t fix something, be honest; and then offer alternatives. Boomers value their time and want solutions now. Don’t tell Boomers what they can do.

Marketing to Generation X

Marketing to Generation X Baby Busters or 20-somethings were born between 1960 and 1980. They have a need to be self-reliant. They value family and friends. They tend to be informal and look for fun in every situation. They treat everyone as an equal regardless of “rank” but tend to be skeptical. They have respect for knowledge and technology.

If you want them to do business with your company, show interest in their family and friends, and admire their children if they are tagging along, or their pictures are prominently displayed on their desk. Treat them as equals. Approach situations in a relaxed and informal manner. Let them ask questions and seek information. Show that you have nothing to hide. Use technology to demonstrate your product and services.

Marketing to The Nexters

Marketing to The Nexters Generation Y or the Internet Generation were born between 1980 and 2000. They tend to be optimistic, street smart and very computer and technology literate. Achievement oriented, they are also strong believers in civic duty. They learn flexibility early since many come from divorced families.

If you want these customers to do business with your company, appeal to their strengths. These young people like to spend money, and they are more likely to purchase your product if your business donates to non-profit organizations. Also, appeal to their technical shrewdness. If it makes life more convenient, easier or is the latest in technology, they will probably want it.

Conclusion: For successful marketing by age-demographics, consider each age group and customize your service

Service providers can give exceptional service by understanding the needs and values of each age group. I give these guidelines to assist you in providing the best possible customer care, but nothing will ever surpass kind and equal treatment to each and every customer you serve.

Learn to present information in a different manner to appeal to core values, which are different for each generation.

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Calls It a Day

Starbucks COO Kevin Johnson is the right replacement for CEO Howard Schultz

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has called it a day, and that’s causing some investors a bit of worry, primarily because the coffee giant struggled the last time Schultz left in 2000.

Starbucks COO Kevin Johnson Replaces CEO Howard Schultz

Kevin Johnson, the current president and chief operating officer of Starbucks, will take over as CEO. Johnson is a 30-year veteran of the tech industry held senior leadership roles for 16 years at Microsoft and a five-year stint CEO of Juniper Networks.

Johnson’s consumer technology background is impressive and is a key asset for Starbucks in expanding the company’s already-leading digital platform across channels and geographies in the years to come.

Former Starbucks COO Troy Alstead Quit in January 2015

When Starbucks’ longtime COO Troy Alstead quit, Schultz wrote, “Looking back on the 23 years we spent together side-by-side as Starbucks colleagues, I can recall so many memorable moments and accomplishments in which Troy can take pride in a job well done. Troy is a beloved Starbucks partner and has played an invaluable role in our growth as an enterprise and in the development of our culture as a performance-driven company balanced with humanity, which is unique for our industry. Troy’s humanity and humility will be missed and we wish him the best.”

Starbucks' Premium Roastery and Reserve Stores

Schultz Focused on Sustaining Revenue

For the last several years, Schultz focused on sustaining revenue growth by moving beyond his coffee house roots. In 2012, he purchased Teavana as another brick in the road, which has encompassed instant coffee, energy drinks, juice, a single-serve brewer and food to sell in its shops and in grocery stores. In 2013, Starbucks and yogurt-maker Danone, declared a plan to cooperatively create an assortment of specialty yogurt products in contributing Starbucks stores in 2014 and in grocery channels in 2015 as part of the coffee chain’s growing Evolution Fresh brand. With cafe-like atmospheres and a brand that evokes a high-quality customer experience, Starbucks appreciates pricing power benefits over nearly all specialty coffee peers. This will be expanded by the development of the Starbucks Reserve sub-brand to deliver exclusive, higher-end coffee blends.

While Schultz’s forethought and attention to customer experience have been significant motives that Starbucks has established one of the widest-moat and most consistent growth stories in the global consumer coverage universe, Starbucks has one of the deepest benches in the consumer sector. While most of the focus is technically on new CEO Johnson and his wide-ranging consumer technology background, Schultz will still be immersed with the development of Starbucks’ Premium Roastery and Reserve stores.

'Onward How Starbucks Fought for Its Life' by Howard Schultz (ISBN 1609613821) Don’t liken Schultz’s switch to that of 2000, when he undertook the chairman role and assigned Jim Donald as CEO. Schultz ultimately returned as CEO in 2008 in the wake of disappointing sales figures and a “watering down of the Starbucks experience”. In his turnaround memoir Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Schultz wrote “The merchant’s success depends on his or her ability to tell a story. What people see or hear or smell or do when they enter a space guides their feelings, enticing them to celebrate whatever the seller has to offer. Intuitively I have always understood this. So when, in 2006 and 2007, I walked into more and more Starbucks stores and sensed that we were no longer celebrating coffee, my heart sank. Our customers deserved better.”

How Starbucks Became Successful

How Starbucks Became Successful

Brand, channel, and technology advantages have positioned Starbucks for a long runway for growth:

  • Starbucks coffee is robust, and people get used to the taste, making it difficult for them to be content somewhere else, either to coffee chains such as Dunkin’ Brands, Tim Hortons, or McDonald’s. Joh. A. Benckiser’s amalgamation of Mondelez’s coffee properties (D.E Master Blenders, Peet’s, Caribou, Einstein Noah, and Keurig) are emerging as Starbucks’s noteworthy competitors. Despite the tenacity of the legend, Starbucks doesn’t really burn its beans. Nonetheless it uses two tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water, which is beyond a lot of other places.
  • Decades ago, in many markets, the only place a customer could get a cappuccino was a restaurant, and there indeed weren’t any flavored or distinguished coffees anywhere. Starbucks was the pioneer in bringing those to the masses. There’s countless brand loyalty they’ve built up over the years. As good the coffee beans are a good amount of training goes in the way they make specialized drinks. Wet, dry cappucino, lattes in perfect ratios of coffee, milk and foam.
  • Starbucks has been known for being pretty generous to its employees, together with presenting full benefits to those working as a minimum 20 hours per week. That made customers feel good about buying coffee there.
  • Customers appreciate the consistency of Starbucks products. A customer can go to a Starbucks pretty much anyplace in the world, and know what they’re getting. A grande vanilla latte will be on the menu and taste the same whether in Seattle, New York, London, Istanbul, or Moscow.

The Recipe to Starbucks Success

The Recipe to Starbucks’ Success

Yet same-store sales have been decelerating, however from very high levels, and the company ran into difficulty the last time Schultz stepped back from the CEO role. Regardless of impressive growth plans, and commodity cost and foreign currency volatility, Starbucks can endure a 40%-45% dividend payout ratio over the next decade.

Some analysts and investors aren’t worried about the management change. Wells Fargo’s Bonnie Herzog acknowledged that while Schultz’s departure is “a loss, in our view the show must (and will) go on” and added, “While we acknowledge that Schultz is without question one of the strongest and most visionary leaders in the consumer/retail world, we believe the succession planning put in place several years ago assures the recent exceptional performance will likely continue.”

Starbucks Future Strategy for Invigorated Growth

Starbucks Future Strategy for Invigorated Growth

Speaking of how Starbucks’ invigorated food and beverage menu and store reformats have uplifted the Starbucks customer experience, pierced new markets and times, and enhanced unit-level productivity metrics, Herzog also wrote,

The leadership change announced today has been a long-time in the making, starting nearly 3 years ago with the shuffling of the senior leadership team, and subsequent promotion of Johnson in early 2015 to the role of President/COO. We believe that Johnson is a very capable leader, with strong experience working side-by-side Schultz for the past two years. Importantly Johnson has an exceptionally good relationship with Schultz, which should keep Schultz sufficiently removed to allow Johnson to lead effectively given his trust in Johnson, while also remaining sufficiently nearby to ensure the ship remains on course… We believe Johnson’s technology background positions him well to ensure SBUX’s mobile and digital initiatives—key to SBUX’s long-term success, in our view—will remain a primary focus of the company. Importantly, Schultz will remain focused on his ongoing efforts to premiumize the SBUX brand and experience through Roastery and Reserve stores, which should support accelerated innovation and allow the broader store network led by Johnson to continue to thrive.

Investors are also cheerful about Starbucks’ mobile, digital, and loyalty program collaborations across the various business lines, affiliations with Spotify, New York Times, and Lyft, and new payment technologies. Starbucks’ worldwide opportunities are undisputable–particularly in China, India, Japan, Brazil, and Eastern Europe–and Starbucks will apply its best practices from the U.S. to accelerate its growth aspirations.

Starbucks has organized an investor meeting next week, during which its leaders are expected to release news on current and future initiatives.

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