November 30, 2009
Earlier this year, I read a provocative article titled How David Beats Goliath by Malcom Gladwell. One story he told concerned the full court press's effectiveness in basketball. He points out that an inferior team (athletically) can beat a superior team if it employs a full court press.
Why? Because the superior team isn't used to such pressure (usually they get to advance the ball over the half court line) and loses composure over time -- resulting in turnovers and bad shots. Gladwell doesn't make the leap of connecting the full court press to business, but I did. I realized that this sporting move could be valuable in bizlife if you used it to respond to competitor's releasing new products. If you pressed their claims from the launch on, instead of waiting for it to gain momentum, you might improve your response to it over time. Anyway, for the purpose of this blog, I'll look at another sporting innovation that could be applied to business.
The Wildcat offense was honed at several university programs, most notably the University of Arkansas. As you can see from the above graphic, the Wildcat hikes the ball directly to a running back, who has another running back he can either hand off to or not. This reintroduced the option play to college football with a notable exception: The quarterback doesn't take the snap, the running back does. As an article at ESPN pointed out, it speeds up the game and puts intense pressure on the defense. The result? Same as the full court press.
Last year, the Miami Dolphins began to use the Wildcat -- and succeeded due to having two great running backs and the element of surprise. They had a record low fumbles per running back touches and an improved running game which led to an unlikely playoff appearance. Watching a recent game, it occurred to me that there are two powerful business applications of the Wildcat:
1. Give the "business ball" directly to the running back (sales executive or account manager) not the quarterback (manager). In other words, give the running back ownership of the customer experience. Give the running back the discretion to hand it off strategically, so long as the handoff capitalizes on a unique gap in competitive "coverage" (think benefits, features, terms). Too many companies put too many layers of touches between the customer and the running back. This results in fumbles, delays and the inability to seizes opportunities in the field.
2. Speed the game up to take control. Build a go-to-market strategy that emphasizes speed and attack instead of a slow plodding approach. Make instant product, price, terms or services decision in the field, and motivate the running backs to always run forward (no need to drop back and survey the field).
Could the Wildcat work for any business situation? Much like football, no. You need several skilled running backs in the field to take the power away from the quarterback without turnovers and missed goals. You may not have a culture that rewards fast and bold. Your competitor may be better at speed than you. But, if you think you have the right personnel package, you might try this for your team.
November 24, 2009
"How do you feel about meetings? A lot of them!?"
That was my opening question after Jon finished his power point presentation, pitching his startup. He had a good idea, a great approach to tech and some understanding of marketing. But did he understand how to run a startup, without it imploding under the weight of its people's creativity?
"I love meetings. The more the merrier. Get 'er done!," he replied.
Wrong answer. When people ask me what's wrong with corporate America, I often reply "bad laptops and long meetings." Too many long meetings are killing our productivity at work. Even at Yahoo, a 2.0 company of sorts, meetings could take up your entire (long) day -- leaving you evenings, weekends, plane rides and holidays to catch up on email.
Why did we have so many meetings? Too much democratization of product development and process improvements. In both of those activities, there's a misguided notion that you can never have too much collaboration. Then, add the plague of power point, which usually takes up the first 45 minutes of every meeting. Given the fact that meetings never start on time, that means you spend your first hour listening. Then the banter begins, followed by some screeds then topped off with white board stick-company art.
Somewhere at the 2 hour point, the meeting ends abruptly as several attendees are either late for lunch or their next two hour meetings. In my experience, three out of four meetings produced no real change in business. A few of them, however, produced important insights. Online meeting (email threads, etc.) don't work either -- the channel's too weak to convey intentions. So we need to meet, but we need to meet much much better.
If I had a startup, my competitive advantage would be our productivity. Here's a handful of meeting rules I'd implement:
1. Meetings are to be limited to thirty minutes for a strategic meeting and eighteen minutes (like TED) for introductory or non-strategic meetings. There would be a massive countdown clock in every conference room. NOTE: There can be exceptions to this rule (see Brett's comment below). But don't let exceptions become the rule -- and go back to meeting 40 hours a week and working all night and weekend to catch up w/ the workflow.
2. Power points will be limited to "must-have" illustrations (graphs, visualizations, diagrams, etc.) The meeting can never start off with a power point - instead, it must start with the WHY? WHAT? HOW?, leading to discussion/presentation of facts/collaboration.
3. Meetings always end with two minutes of promise-record keeping. Action items are fully assigned, with delivery dates to be documented and placed into our calendars.
4. Meetings deemed "a waste of time" by the most senior person in the room will have a budget cost to the person who called the meeting. Think of the chargeback system for corporate training (for no-shows and cancellations, etc.) There are many variations of this rule that can work, but the point is that we have to hold people accountable for calling meetings.
5. NO ONE is to bring a laptop, black berry or cell phone into the meeting UNLESS there is a specific timing issue that requires them to be "online" during the meeting. Working on two things at once is considered a sign of poor time management. Advisory: If you can't come to a meeting without a communication gadget to interrupt you, do us a favor and miss this meeting.
6. Meetings must have a moderator, who's job is to manage agenda, time and documentation. The moderator must also attempt to manage cross talk, but senior members in the room are expected to help in this regard too.
7. Director level and up attendees can (quietly) leave any meeting in violation of the above rules.
For more, read Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
November 20, 2009
I shot this video @ home on Monday, but waited until today to share it with you.
I want you to take some time off this weekend. As much as possible. The more you take off, the better you'll be next week. Check out this video clip for the screed:
November 19, 2009
Earlier this year, I gave a keynote for Fidelity Information Services to a few hundred community bankers. Many, if not all of them, were severely impacted by the recession.
During the talk, I explained how the mood state was tied to future cash flow (Primal Leadership). From there I made a challenge to the audience: Lead your people back to the positive mood state to recover.
November 17, 2009
Today, a WSJ Article (Thor Industries: On The Road Again) highlights a bright spot in the embattled automotive industry. Sure, they had layoffs, but they didn't have debt - which was key. Thor Industries is a Phoenix company, that will emerge from the 2008-2009 great recession stronger and more profitable than ever. Two of its mega competitors have either failed or been parted out by private equity firms. In the end, Thor picks up market share and top talent.
How did they do it? They stayed lean in production and fat in creativity. They used much smaller factories (75,000 is a very small RV factory) that could easily close when demand softens. Their IKEA like design acumen also allows it to scale up if/when demand takes off again. This results in less debt, faster turnaround times and better morale.
While many businesses have done this recently, they'll likely behave like Thor's competitors during the next expansion - sprawling out production to capture economies of scale. They'll be exposed to downturns and slow to react to innovations. I guess it is really hard for modern leaders to stay lean and mean during expansions, but that's what Thor Industries did -- and will likely keep doing in the future.
Takeaway: When your industry takes off and you are filling up your boat with fish, remember to keep your debt obligations small and focus on design based scale. Many companies are realizing this, and getting out of the "making-things" businesses and into design/marketing -- a much lighter model to support.
November 16, 2009
On November 6, I gave a keynote speech at a small business conference in Mexico City.
I did a great deal of research to prepare my remarks. I looked into the state of the Mexican economy, the climate for small businesses and consumer trends. The idea was for me to leverage my global expertise into a set of useful remarks for small business owners in greater Mexico City.
During my talk, I outlined a big opportunity for Mexico ( US Dumps China For Mexico) and predicted that economic recovery would eventually find its way to Mexico -- giving all bold and creative business owners a great opportunity. Business would need to offer world class products and services, and be able to scale to the opportunity in the future.
The trick, I argued, was leverage human behavior to help your business help itself. Get these right, I promised, and you'll attract customers and make profits. These behaviors boil down to four pieces of advice:
1. Behave Like A Leader - Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "the leader's role is to define reality, then give hope." You've been measuring reality for over a year. You cut, saved and sharped the pencil to a needle point. Now it is time to give your people hope -- a belief that they will be successful over time.
2. Convince Employees To Behave Like Owners - Too often, employees behave like employees, and the quality suffers: workmanship, service, arbitrage. Why? The employee isn't staked in the activity OR their is a code of silence where there's no present ownership and the other employees are loyal to each other.
First I recommended sharing either profits, savings or power with employees. Build a profit sharing plan for when the business turns around. Reward great ideas with increased power, even if you can't afford a salary bump. Next, I gave this simple tip: Give your customers access to the big cheese.
3. Get Customers To Act Like Employees - Deliver a "wow" customer experience that is memorable and engaging (using your products as props or your services as a stage) and your customers will take your business to the street/web. Ask your customers to write reviews for you at websites (like Yelp here in the United States). When your customers join your marketing team or quality oversight commission, you are likely growing your profits.
4. Treat partners like partners. Your suppliers are very important to you. If they fail, you'll fail too. Practice the art of being a great client. I also told the Elmer Letterman story that illustrates how one partner can help another.
5. Improve quality - As business comes back from China to Mexico, a new attribute of quality will emerge: Sustainability. I talked about the new eco-Sandal that Dow is producing in Mexico with Groupo Riva. I provided a case study of the banquet manager in Cancun at Le Meridian, that's helping to restore the resort's score on the new environmental scorecard that companies, association and tourist management groups are using. I shared advice from my book Saving The World At Work, as well as a recession friendly green strategy.
These ideas will work in Mexico, as well as most other markets in the world. They aren't culturally based, but based on the Law of Reciprocity -- something I've seen everywhere I've traveled.
November 13, 2009
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "the leader's role is the define reality, then give hope."
In that statement, Napoleon captures the essence of sustainable leadership -- balance. Balance between good and evil, upside and downside, opportunity and risk and happiness and anguish. The balance, though, is difficult for leaders to maintain, especially during challenging times. It's too easy to sink into the survival mode, living in the perilous moment of reality. Hope seems too expensive to invest in.
Of course, this approach will only cause you to lose followers as they wear out and wither away from your influence. In my experience, there are three different areas of leadership development that can help you achieve this balance and lead during good times as well as bad.
Remember the 3 R's of school? Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic (OK, they still called it the 3 R's). My 3 R's are just as foundational for the modern leader:
#1: Resilience: The leader must have a fortified sense of confidence. She must be able to face fears and frame criticism into motivation. The leader must follow something greater than himself. The leader must cultivate faith in her team and the shared vision of the group.
#2: Relationships: The leader must cultivate relationships by helping everyone in her path. Leaders don't manage relationships, they cultivate them. It's too easy for a reality-driven leader to treat employees and customers in a transactional way. You will be remembered years from now based on the investments you did or didn't make in relationships during your darkest hours.
#3: Responsibility: The leader is responsible for her group, down to the person. He embraces a do-no-harm credo and strives for his group to achieve something truly significant. To the enlightened leader, responsibility isn't about doing the right thing - it's about doing a great thing. By tuning her psyche to seek out areas where the group can make a difference, the leader lifts her team up into a place of purpose. This creates a sustainable sense of enthusiasm for the entire group, including its leader.
Read: Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman for unique insights into the importance of creating a positive mood state.
November 12, 2009
Last year, I gave a talk at Best Western's annual conference for hotel managers.
I shared advice on how to differentiate during these times. It came from the late great Stanley Marcus Jr. It's good advice for anyone in business: The customer has an experience when they do business with you. Make it attractive. This can go even further than discounting or squeezing!
November 11, 2009
Yesterday, I gave the opening keynote at a Nokia Siemens Networks event in Washington DC (Environment As Economic Engine).
During my talk, I identified Cloud Computing as a mega-trend that would foster egalitarianism and Green IT. It's the buzz of the tech-blogosphere, where the common perception is that "the sky's the limit for cloud computing." I shared a conversation that I'd had a few days before with a fellow tech author, where he sniffed, "Cloud computing is just a fad, a headline." My response was, "It's a fad like social media is a fad. It's a fad like e-commerce was a fad in 1998. It's a fad like email was a fad in 1995. It's a fad like IT was a fad in 1988.....
You get the idea.
Think of cloud computing as any digital service managed from the Internet. Cloud = internet. It could be software-as services (like salesforce.com). It could be hosted business and commerce services (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or even Ebay Merchant). Managed platforms, storage, etc. all round out the constellation of Internet based opportunities.
Cloud computing is like mass transportation for the superinformation highway. Years ago, DEC found Ken Olsen insisted that the PC revolution was a fad, and eventually centralized computing would manage remote services to dumb terminals. Today's netbook is yesterday's dumb terminals. You don't need processing power, mega-storage capability or stacks of RAM to manage business to enterprise functions. Think of the efficiencies!
Back to Green IT. Cloud computing is green, initially because it eliminates the need to produce discreet servers, incremental hard drives, CD/DVDs, packaging, etc. All of those require energy for production, distribution and disposal. Many of those items are never properly recycled.
Moreover, due to scale, cloud computing is energy efficient. MIT found that it gained 50% efficiency via Microsoft Azure's service over their traditional dedicated datacenter. This is a big deal, because datacenters are the new hummers of IT. Consulting firm McKinsey released a report last year, integrating research done by the Department of Energy. It was startling: Data centers consumed .6% of our nation's electrical demand in 2000. It doubled to 1.2% by 2006. (That's equal to 6 million cars on the road worth of CO2 emissions). It's on a tear to quadruple by 2020. HP, Google and Microsoft use water cooled towers and others tech innovations to achieve high energy efficiency in their cloud computing centers.
Here's the biggest promise of Cloud computing: Breakthroughs. As Cradle to Cradle authors pointed out, "being less bad is no good." In other words, we need solutions, not just less emissions. With cloud computing, everyone has processing power, unlimited storage and collaboration at their fingertips. Small business, schools and individuals will now contribute to the conversation. Emma Stewart, an Autodesk executive that contributes to Environmental Leader, summed it up: "Cloud computing could be the tool that unlocks one of the main drivers of unsustainable practices: poorly informed decision making. If designed, architects, engineers, general contractors, energy auditors, land use planners and policy makers are able to access services that use vast sets of dynamic, complex and otherwise un-integrated data on the cloud for pennies a minute, think of the massive impact this could have on buildings, infrastructure, land use and urban design and policy-making."
My conclusion was threefold:
1. Cloud computing's future depends on reliable broadband access.
2. Cloud computing will do to the discreet server or storage device what voice mail did to answering machines.
3. Connect with mega trends to contribute, scale and profit from their potential.
November 05, 2009
Confidence is the rocket fuel for success.
When you stamp out uncertainty in your point of view, confidence rushes in and gives you resilience, power and boldness. Show me a successful entrepreneur and I'll show you a consistently confident persona. Confidence gives you risk tolerance. It fills you with charisma, attracting others to follow or join you. It puts you in a creative (think proactive) state as opposed to the weaker reactive analytical state.
The secret, though, is to create an effective system for consistent confidence. Sure, you get puffed up when things are going great and the wind is at your back. But when the wind dies down and the tide goes out to sea, confidence ebbs away like the tide.
That's why you should cultivate three hundred and sixty degree confidence in your outlook. You need to surround yourself with certainty to protect your bold point of view. Think of confidence as a combination force-field and power source. When the world comes at you, it protects you. When the world is your oyster, it catapults you. One thing's for sure: Redundancy is required. If you've seen any Star Trek episode or movie, you know that primary force fields can fold under pressure. So you need backups. If you've seen any war movie, you know that the power source (think generator or stockpiles) are always the first to be attacked. So you need Plan B.
To that I offer a framework for your personal confidence system: 360 Degree Confidence. Surround yourself with realistic reasons to belief. I first heard about this concept in the context of brand marketing. Rex Briggs, a marketing consultant, was visiting with Yahoo back in 2002 about the value of internet advertising in creating purchase intent. He argued that people decide to buy something (CD, phone, etc.) because they have multiple confirmations of its value. When you hear about a band online, then via a friend and finally on the radio -- you convert! He suggested that brands need to surround the consumer by reaching them at work, at home and in play.
Now let's apply that to confidence. There are three 120 degree layers of confidence that can surround your psyche full circle: Self Confidence, Team Confidence and Higher Power Confidence. When one buckles under heavy pressure, the other(s) serve as a backstop. When you know you have all three, you realize that you are not alone in the fight, which can give you calm and restore your sense of confidence.
Self confidence is not enough. You can't do it on your own in this interdependent world of today. When you put the world on your back, you create an emotionally unsustainable life. When you believe in your team, you realize you have a job to do and collectively you will do well. When you believe in a power bigger than all of you, and that your mission is worthy, you realize that you can't lose.
In future posts (Parts 2, etc.), I'll give you advice on cultivating all three types. For now, though, I challenge you to open your eyes for proof points that you are not alone. For now, I admonish you to stop relying on faith alone, and start giving yourself a fair shake when you look in the mirror.