Smart Growth. Are you growing your business efficiently?

In a recent executive discussion, we batted around the topic of growing our product sales in our target markets more predictably and with sustained results.  With our specialized business-to-business product offering, we have found that marketing to the masses does not have the same effect that it does for more consumer-oriented products.  That’s not to say that marketing is not important but we must pick the methods that work best for how our end-users engage and buy.

Our product introductions often struggle for momentum and the results are often sporadic and unpredictable.  However, history shows that over time we most often have ultimately gained the product momentum desired and our long-lived products pay for themselves with reasonable returns on our investment for many years.

But how do we get to critical mass in our global markets more quickly and effectively?  

One executive commented, when we introduce a product to some of our smaller regional distributors, they will follow every sales lead to ensure that we capture those opportunities, even if they are not in our targeted “sweet spot”.  Is that wise? Are we wasting our time and the distributors as well?  Is this effective for the long run?

Something to consider….

Sean Ellis (see reference below from Startup Growth Engines)  talks about LinkedIn’s strategy to grow in the early years.  Ellis talks about reaching critical mass in a region or market before moving to a more global scale. By doing so, he believes that the early adopters become the platform to build upon and the impetus for other to follow.

In many respects LinkedIn solved the classic chicken and egg problem of a network effect business by localizing the network to achieve critical mass around the Silicon Valley audience. Much like Facebook did five years later by constraining network growth to a single school, or Uber did a decade later by launching in one city at a time, LinkedIn kickstarted their network effects by tapping into a local population where it could reach critical mass.

This critical mass creates the utility needed in network businesses to create the high-quality must-have experience that breeds both user loyalty and word of mouth. By tapping local business heroes, LinkedIn was able to spark growth and make it a must-have network for Valley employees. From there it spread outward through the connections of the people on the platform.”

Yes, we recognize that there are many facets to a product introduction and you must do all of the right to be successful.  But does a great marketing strategy fail when product acceptance is constrained while we wait for the approval of the early adopters?

So now, when we speak about product introductions, perhaps part of our growth strategy is to consider how to focus either, regionally or by end user application to reach critical mass in that sector.  Sounds obvious but as I heard from my counterparts, we often chase every opportunity presented in our exuberance to win business and often waste efforts on successes or failures that often will not build the necessary base.

Perhaps this simple targeted strategy, often done but maybe not fully understood, will provide for solid baseline growth that will increase at a greater rate than blanketing the market from the onset.

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Ellis, Sean; Brown, Morgan (2014-06-24). Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth (Kindle Locations 2344-2345). Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. Kindle Edition.

Also see: http://www.unlockinggrowth.com

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Henry Ford’s – My Life and Work…Still Pertinent Nearly 100 Years Later

Henry Ford’s penned an autobiography in 1922…My Life and Work.  But as an autobiography, it seems more about why he made the business like he did and his life’s decisions, than simply a story of his life.

Early in the work, he speaks about his business at a time when the economic growth was unbounded but the treatment of labor was inconsistent and communism was taking hold in Russia. He reflects on the already great business he has created and the importance of the business not as a generator of wealth but a system by which man can survive and thrive in a natural way.

In an early excerpt, Ford speaks of business in general and its stabilizing effect in a world in social, economic, and political turmoil. His words are as appropriate today as they were then, and we now know that the systems to which he compared American capitalism have met their predicted fates. However, we still today grapple with the role of government in social welfare that he identifies as a weakness.
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When you get a whole country— as did ours— thinking that Washington is a sort of heaven and behind its clouds dwell omniscience and omnipotence, you are educating that country into a dependent state of mind which augurs ill for the future. Our help does not come from Washington, but from ourselves; our help may, however, go to Washington as a sort of central distribution point where all our efforts are coordinated for the general good.

We may help the Government; the Government cannot help us. The slogan of “less government in business and more business in government” is a very good one, not mainly on account of business or government , but on account of the people. Business is not the reason why the United States was founded. The Declaration of Independence is not a business charter, nor is the Constitution of the United States a commercial schedule. The United States— its land, people, government, and business— are but methods by which the life of the people is made worthwhile.

The Government is a servant and never should be anything but a servant. The moment the people become adjuncts to government, then the law of retribution begins to work, for such a relation is unnatural, immoral, and inhuman. We cannot live without business and we cannot live without government. Business and government are necessary as servants, like water and grain; as masters they overturn the natural order.

The welfare of the country is squarely up to us as individuals. That is where it should be and that is where it is safest. Governments can promise something for nothing but they cannot deliver. They can juggle the currencies as they did in Europe (and as bankers the world over do, as long as they can get the benefit of the juggling) with a patter of solemn nonsense.

But it is work and work alone that can continue to deliver the goods —and that, down in his heart, is what every man knows. There is little chance of an intelligent people, such as ours, ruining the fundamental processes of economic life. Most men know they cannot get something for nothing. Most men feel— even if they do not know— that money is not wealth. The ordinary theories which promise everything to everybody, and demand nothing from anybody, are promptly denied by the instincts of the ordinary man, even when he does not find reasons against them. He knows they are wrong. That is enough. The present order, always clumsy, often stupid, and in many ways imperfect, has this advantage over any other— it works.
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Ford, Henry (2014-07-30). My Life and Work (Illustrated) (Kindle Location 157). Didactic Press. Kindle Edition.

Henry Ford, My Life and Work, 1922

 

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Android vs Apple iOS: The War is Over

I officially and hereby unequivocably declare that the war between the Android and Apple operating systems is over.  And the winner is…..no drum roll required…..Apple.

And how do I know?  I used both and it is obvious.

Ok, stand down faithful Android developer we don’t need to engage in fisticuffs.  This is not a random declaration. I used no less than two devices, using each operating system and scientifically compared them.  The criteria were extensive…does it work and do I like it.  Two checks for Apple….two question marks for Android.

Alright, feel free to send me your list of reasons why one is better than the other…the open operating system versus tightly controlled, Android marketplace vs iTunes or iStore, the sheer number of Android capable devices that are flooding the market, Apple’s oppressive control of apps and profits, etc, etc.   Regardless, I predict a cloudy forecast that will make the differentiation between the two over time more difficult than the determination Bill Clinton’s political gender during the late ’90’s.

Yes, the diehard developers on both sides can take the battle to the streets and argue both sides, ad naseum….And both parties will win some skirmishes on particular battlefields.  But when it really comes down to it, the average and majority of users just want to use their particular devices to perform those menial and repetitive tasks that have become part of our daily portable connectivity existence….and they want the results to be easy, reliable, and predictable.  Some people want to make beer and some just want to drink it.  I’m okay with both but when I want to drink it, I want to know what I am getting, and I don’t want to have to crack five cans to find one that isn’t all foam.  Android appears to make some pretty good beer, at least as good as the Apple beer, but I have opened more than a few cans that were flat or all fizz.  And I am not alone based on my perusing of the chat sites and message boards.

I had the opportunity to check out two Android-based devices recently, one an iPad knock-off and another a 7″ tablet.  Both a fraction of the cost of a similar Apple device and both left me disappointed in their ease of use and performance.  It is hardware or software?  I don’t know, I don’t care.  When it was all said and done, I went back to my Apple devices to get something done, as the reliability of the same app or function on Android and Apple iOS was greatly different.  And did I mention the number of Android devices on the market running different versions of Android and the level of confusion about which ones could be updated and how, and what the differences are and why?

I would have been happy to say Android has satisfied my needs and given me the flexibility and reliability that I want.  I purchased hardware with just that in mind, so I was willing to give it a shot.  As I said earlier, my guess is that day will come. And that day will be when Android more closely approximates the Apple model for control, if it is not already happening.

In the meantime, send me your thoughts and comments.  I’ll get back you from my iPad or iPhone.

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Updated: 5/7/2014- As promised in the above paragraph from 2011, a time would come when this discussion needs revisiting….Cnet.com handles the conversation nicely with this article.

http://www.cnet.com/news/ios-vs-android-why-it-no-longer-matters/

 

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Who’s Managing ‘Your’ Time?

Hundreds of books have been written and careers have be spent writing and advising on how to manage your time.  This won’t be one of those.  However, as one who is not that great at time management, I feel justifiably qualified to comment on the topic.

As a manager of departments and individuals, I have recognized two primary destroyers of my time management intentions….me and everyone else.  “Now that’s pretty obvious”, you say.  Ok, I am just trying to set the ground work for the few points that I wish to convey.  If you recognize the offending parties,  you at least have a chance to focus on correction, just like recognizing that eating a box of chocolate chip cookies before bed is probably not going to lead to greater weight loss.

We all know that in today’s business world, we are all trying to do more with fewer human resources and perhaps more ways to distract ourselves from our intended goals.  A list that once included, my office door, a desk phone and a fax machine has now expanding to email, voicemail, texts, Skype, the internet, etc., etc.  We are all now globally connected and globally distracted.

While I am writing this, I have received four emails on my screen and a reminder that the Olympic Gold medal hockey game will be streamed to my laptop shortly.  I have plenty of opportunities for distraction and lost time.  Like that box of chocolate chip cookies, its going to take some willpower and focus to avoid distraction.

I don’t have time to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  again (another self imposed distraction), so lets start a mini-list that should at least remind us of the obvious and get going in the right direction.

1) Get the right mindset, teach the right mindset. Here’s my mantra “Treat time as a constraint not an asset.”  So what do I mean?  I see this issue more often in my staff than with my peers, but nonetheless, too often folks start the day with no plan for what they need to accomplish, just waiting for that external input or distraction that will send them on their way and help them fill the next 8 hours of their day.  When you hear or ask yourself, “What am I going to do today?”  You know you are treating time as an asset.  Asking the question, “How am I going to accomplish what I need to accomplish today?” may better serve in understanding and managing the constraint of time.

2) Continue to push planning, focus, and process, not just for myself but for my team.  It’s not enough to  plan your own time.  If your team is poorly planning their time, it will invariably cause inefficiency above and below.

Further planning without focus, will invariably lead to the breakdown of the plan at the moment when the inertia of the distraction is greater than the inertia of the planned activity.  Improve the inertia of your plan by instilling process and focus in your planning activities.

For example:

3) Establish short and longer term priorities that need focus (for you and your team).  Use the list to evaluate other items not on the list before jumping in.  When the original list was created it was done with thought and purpose.  Changes to the list and prioritization should use the same rigor.

4) Create a balance between short and longer term focus so that longer term goals can be achieved but we remain responsive to shorter term needs.   Use process to determine when unplanned shorter term needs should be added to the list and recognize that this short term opportunities that seem benign are often the leading contributors to time inefficiency.

5) Be aware of the plan and of time eating activities, so that work activities become a cognitive process.  Be cognizant of the activities that continually drive you off schedule or consume disproportionate amounts of your time.  Promote “short term” activities into longer term activities and treat them as such so they don’t continue to de-rail daily or weekly progress.

6) Recognize which activities you should be doing not just can be doing and move activities that don’t fit to others that may be more appropriate owners.  It’s always easier to work down than up or revert to tasks that can be done by subordinates.  Its human nature but not why we are in the jobs that we are. This item could easily be the first on the “to do” list but often can’t be executed until the other items are completed.

7) Let others know that your time is valuable to you and your company, and that wasted time is lost time.  Instilling the concept that time is valuable and can be managed will become contagious and the organization (or at least those interested) will change behavior and follow by example.  Conversely, allowing constant interruption and poor time management sends the message that you do not adhere to planning and discipline.

Finally, make sure that you allocate time to read this blog and provide feedback on how these topics work in your organization.

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How to Find the Right Balance in Your Employee Compensation Programs

Anytime the topic of compensation is raised, folks scatter to establish their positions on the proverbial compensation battlefield.  Finding the proper balance between wage and non-wage compensation has been topic for a number of years at my current firm, as we try to control costs in a market where pricing is very competitive and a geographical location that has bloated salaries due to the buoyancy of the Federal Government.

I must first claim “safe harbor” by saying that I am not an expert on the topic but have a considerable amount of experience attempting to formulate, implement and defend the programs we offer today and in the past.

When the question of “How do if create the right balance in my compensation programs?” is asked, here’s what I have learned from not only my current role but previous leadership roles in organizations.

First the basics…These are the questions we need to answer and understand.

How do we compensate our employees?

Compensation includes these fundamental elements (we can debate all of the categories, but these are the fundamental areas that most organizations have to work with)
a. Salary or Hourly Wages
b. Bonus/Incentive/Commission
c. Fringe- housing (employer-provided or employer-paid), group insurance (health, dental, life etc.), disability income protection, retirement benefits, daycare, tuition reimbursement, sick leave, vacation (paid and non-paid), social security, profit sharing, funding of education, and other specialized benefits.

How do our employees perceive how we offer compensation?

The blend of Compensation needs differ by individual and the balance of preferences is usually determined by a number of factors including:
– Age
– Marital or family status
– Level of total compensation

However, we have learned that the strongest factor in an employee’s response to compensation offers is this concept: Living wage.

– Salary or Wages have always been considered the “living wage”. Said another way, “if I get nothing else, how much money will I have each month or pay period?”

– Cash. The only part of my compensation I can use to pay the bills, buy groceries, and gas.

Thus, until the Salary or Hourly Wages for an individual create a living wage that meets their requirements for basic living, at whatever level it may be, wages will always be the number one factor. Individuals will gladly forego all other compensation elements until that need is met.

Yes, it is a pretty obvious concept but one that is often overlooked when compensation policy is created, especially when the policies are created by individuals whose “living wage” far exceeds their basic needs.

So how do we address this challenge? How do we convince employees that this really great balance of Wages and Benefits are good for them?

The answer normally is, “it’s very difficult”.  This is especially true if there is a mismatch between the overall total compensation model and the full gamut of employees’ needs. A great retirement plan or great time-off plan may mean nothing to an employee focusing on the present.

There a many possible approaches to solve this problem.

Here are a couple of ideas….

So you say, “Well, I get it, but our non-wage benefits are great and cost us a lot of money. We can’t simply raise wages and still remain profitable or competitive in our marketplace.” Yes this is true.  But creating programs that do not attract or retain employees won’t work either.

Perhaps, a solution is to look at the non-wage benefits and determine which of those can be variable or elective. Can the employer “buy-back” paid time-off in exchange for higher wages? Can you offer different health benefit choices that allow the employee to opt for less coverage and a higher deductible or optional services that will reduce their total cost of employment, so that you can put the saving back into wages? Look at all of your non-wage benefits and determine if there are opportunities to rebalance your wage to non-wage costs.

Another option is to add a variable component to the wage or salary based on performance incentives or profit sharing. This normally works best when the discrepancy between the current wages and the required living wages is small. It works best when a bonus is an incentive beyond the requirement to meet the living wage threshold. This concept works well for the employer on a number of fronts but with respect to balancing wage and non-wage compensation, it eliminates the risk associated with inflated costs that are now balanced by incremental revenue and profitability. This program takes foresight and careful management but can offer a longer-term solution that does not require the employee to choose or sacrifice one for the other.

These are just a couple ideas to help develop that balance.  Clearly in any process, understanding the demographics and needs of your employee base is the first step, in choosing the path that is right for you. The next could be surveying samples for the various employee demographics and carefully extracting the information that can lead to understanding that proper balance, based on needs but not necessarily wishes.

There are a lot of publications on this and related topics out there, one of the most recent that caught my attention was re-published by the Motley Fool. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/02/01/american-factory-workers-getting-33029-yearly-bonu.aspx?source=iaasitlnk0000003

I welcome you thoughts and feedback on these approaches.

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Are you a good boss? The value of effective middle management.

Are you a good boss?  The value of effective middle management.

This is a good snippet on the power of leading/teaching/mentoring.

A colleague recently shared with me a study conducted by Kathryn Shaw and Edward Lazear of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Utah’s Christopher Stanton called “The Value of Bosses.”  The study reports that “There is the 11% improvement lift in changing from a poor supervisor to a good one.” That translates to replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10 percent of the pool with one from the top 10 percent increases output about as much as adding a 10th worker to a nine-worker team.

What is interesting about the study is that the authors found that the improvement in performance did not come from micromanaging the workers or cracking the whip over them but through teaching and training them on better processes and methods.  Even more interesting is that when the best workers were paired with the best supervisors the improvement was phenomenal.  Even after the supervisor was changed, the improvement lingered.

That makes sense to me, but I don’t know of many companies that only have stars on their teams.  Most have supervisors and workers that could improve and the organization probably won’t survive if the stars only work with the stars.  I believe the trick is finding how to raise every worker’s game to star level, or at least drive improvement.

That is where the second piece of the puzzle dropped into place for me.

Another colleague introduced me to the book “ThinkerToys” which in a nutshell presents the concepts of developing creativity in yourself and others.  One of the most fundamental aspects of being creative is saying “I am creative” or avoiding the contrary “I am not creative”.  Studies found that when random groups of individuals were asked whether they were creative or not, the most important thing affecting their actual creativity was whether they thought they were or not.  Background, training, artistic, left/right brain dominance were all secondary.  Those who thought they were not creative became creative once they began to think that way.

Now, take that concept an go back to the effective middle management discussion….bosses who allow team members to use word like “we can’t” or “that’s just who we are” or don’t show and encourage allowing “yes” to be a possibility or showing by example how “yes” can be achieved allow their workers to not  grow or produce, under-achieve.  Impacting individuals with that change in mentality can help the individual to maintain and grow without continuous additional input or even with different bosses.  The impact will not only grow the individual but it will grow the company and likely the individual’s peers as well.

Leadership and management through training, mentoring, and open thinking.  Now that’s a pretty easy one, if you think about it.

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No Problem

This won’t take long.

As I dig through the rich earth that is business experience and best practices, I sometimes find the greatest discoveries are closest to the surface.  This is probably one of those cases.

Since the beginning of time, business has been defined by someone providing a product or service and someone else consuming it.  Somewhere along the line, probably when caveman realized that the cave down the path was bartering skins of equal quality to his, the seller realized that customer satisfaction was an important factor in getting the customer to purchase and return to purchase again.  For countless years thereafter, the seller has worked hard to provide that positive buying experience and to convey his appreciation for the buyer selecting him to conduct that transaction.

At some point in recent history, this seller-buyer interaction seems to have degraded.  I am not exactly sure when it happened, but I do remember the first time that I realized it.  The discovery happened something like this:

Seller (in some store/restaurant)- “Alright, here’s your receipt.”

Buyer (me)- “Ok, thank you.”

Seller- “No Problem.”

Transaction complete.

Buyer (me to myself)- “No Problem?  Well, I am certainly glad I didn’t put you out. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a ‘problem’, as you really didn’t do anything other than take my money.”

I remember when the seller would answer, “You’re welcome”.  Maybe even, “Thank you, we appreciate your business.”   I guess business is good enough these days that the sellers are “ok” conducting a transaction, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. Huh.

Well, in any case, I’ve said my piece.

No need to thank me.  But if you do, know in advance that you’re welcome.

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