Measurement

Secrets of Success: Calling It Quits

Jonathan Wright, our Leadership Quantified Expert in Business Development, takes a look at a subject near and dear to my heart: knowing when to cut your losses, make something that isn't working stop and move on to new successes. I've written about it before - and you've been great about commenting. Do the same for Jonathan. Even better, do what you need to do - with Jonathan's help.
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When I first started writing what is now this post about calling it quits, I had intended it to be a Leadership Quantified Working Paper providing guidance to you on knowing when to pull the plug on a Marketing or Social Media Campaign. (I'll be writing about that too, but first this.) Due to circumstances, I decided to generalize the topic for any situation - professional or personal.

What were those circumstances? I fired an employee.

It turns out that managing staff is very much like managing a business plan - because the steps are surprisingly similar.

Let me summarize the situation - or at least my actions leading up to the firing:
  • I Coached and coaxed...
  • Met this employee in the middle (or tried)...
  • Reviewed what previous managers had done and how that had worked...
  • Took into consideration personal issues I knew existed that I assumed were part of the situation I was dealing with... 
  • Set myself outside my feelings and looked at the situation without emotion and, finally, 
  • Realized that sometimes you just cannot turn someone around. 
It's the same with a marketing or social media or sales plan. Sometimes you have to trash it all and move on.

I hate to admit that I failed. We all do. But to succeed you need two or more willing participants. If one of those participants is disengaged, you have no hope of winning.

Accept it and don't waste any more time or resources.

But how do you know when that time has arrived? We've all heard the Perseverance speech, the Never Give Up speech and the Try One More Time Even When You Just Can't speech. Yeah, I tried all those approaches and still...nothing.

I'm an eternal optimist - almost annoyingly so. I want so badly to make my plan work that I'm willing to push and push to get it accomplished. That's admirable to a point - until it's not and not taking the necessary steps becomes the problem. Yes, you, yourself,  become the problem - because you're not taking the actions necessary.

So, let's take a look at the three steps you need to take to know when to call it quits - whether you're dealing with a staff member or a plan (business, marketing or sales):

1. Review the Situation as It Currently Stands
  • Review the plan as strategized (Note: Every plan must have a timeline to measure against effectiveness)
  • Review the steps taken to implement and look for missed opportunities
2. If Missed Opportunities are Identified
  • Try those options/opportunities with a strict timeline
  • Review to see if the new options/opportunities had any impact
If Yes: Continue on that path
If No: Move to the next step
3. Do One Final Push to Succeed
  • Set a short timeline - no longer than one month 
  • At the end of that time period, review to see if any significant changes have occurred to the positive
If Yes: Revise the plan to adjust and adapt those positive outcomes for growth and expansion and continue
If No: Set a date - no longer than two weeks -  to pull the plug and implement a new plan.
Thanks to the internet, life moves at light speed - both personal and professional. Technology has given us the tools to track, monitor and measure every campaign, decision and post.

That makes wasting precious resources irresponsible - most importantly, time. At the end of the day, you're not helping yourself, your company or your plan.

There are clearly visible warning signs your plan might be failing, such as:
  • No changes in behavior or sales or marketing goals (i.e. 'Likes' on your Facebook page)
  • No willingness to take new direction
  • No willingness to engage in communications that the plan is failing
  • No metrics to measure success or failure
  • No timelines attached to milestones
  • No way to quantify engagement
  • No excitement over the plan or daily activities to execute the plan.
Sometimes a simple, small change in approach or messaging can make all the difference between success and failure. But without a mechanism built into your plan to measure those changes and a benchmark to say This is Success, how will you know if you're succeeding?

In my consulting practice, I'm profoundly confused by some executives' and business owners' refusals to set metrics for success along the way. They're "afraid" to set those milestones because they're afraid of this "new idea" or unsure "how to implement new media." Some flat out don't want to be able to label an effort a success or failure because they see that as a projection of their success or failure.

Not one of those excuses is a reason not to put appropriate measures into place.

Even freshman business students know that there's no "100% Success" plan. One product may have success and another similar product may try exactly the same plan and fail miserably. Hundreds of small details go into the formula and they determine success or failure. Some of them are concrete, but, often, they're gauzy intangibles like "tone" or "response time" or "personality" that there's no definable label for - but can make or break a campaign.

Ultimately the formula is the same no matter the situation:
  1. Make the plan then be willing to follow it. 
  2. If it's not working...take a deep breath and pull the plug. 
  3. After a brief mourning period - no more than a day - begin strategizing a new plan.
What you will find, much to your surprise, is a renewed energy around the situation and that, by knowing what didn't work, you and your team can concentrate on what did and how to build on that in new directions.
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Innovation and Productivity: How's Your Infrastructure?

When you think about infrastructure, you tend to think roads and bridges. That's because the talking heads who talk politics always put infrastructure in that context.

As far as that goes, it's correct.

But, if you look at all the components of infrastructure - and then apply them to your organization - what you quickly see is that those "roads and bridges" are representative of how you and your organization are getting where you're trying to go.

What are you building? And how?

What are your policies and procedures? Are you consistently looking for opportunities to become more effective and efficient? Measurably?

Do you listen to your employees? Do you give them a chance to contribute and feedback information about the obstacles they face...without you becoming defensive?

How well trained are your employees? By whom? Are you ensuring your employees have all the knowledge and skill they need to demonstrate the ability you're looking for from them?

Do you have systems for innovation and expanded participation? Do you regularly work to collect new ideas from your employees, customers and suppliers that lead to new products, services and ways of doing business?

What you'll find is that the less you pay attention to those questions, the more organizational traffic jams you create and the slower your organization is able to perform and deliver. (Think the LA Freeway system in the heart of rush hour and you'll get my drift.)

Take some time to observe the infrastructure you've got. Then build the roads and bridges you need in your organizational infrastructure to create the success you always envisioned.

You'll definitely get where you want to go...because you'll have built what it takes to get there.

Lessons from Facebook: It's All in the Measures

Today is the day that the first group of Facebook "lock-up" shares, post-IPO, go on the market. The analysts (in all their always fascinating wisdom - and, yes, I'm being sarcastic) told us it would be a bloodbath from the moment the markets opened. Then they told us that we wouldn't know for a day and a half. Then they said it was already accounted for because everyone knew it was going to happen. Then they said it's really November - when the next, much larger, tranche of shares are unlocked - that anything is really going to happen.

What all of this tells you is that - pretty much always - you shouldn't listen to the people who are measuring your organization as outsiders. They don't know your business. You do.

The question is: what do you know...and how do you make the best use of it and other measures you need?  Here's the answer.
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The expression "You manage what you measure" is not only true, it directly impacts the way you run your business in the short and long term.

Let's use Facebook as an example. At the time of this writing, the company has over 955 million users worldwide - nearly half of whom use the service each day. And in the company's early days, big user numbers was exactly what they needed - so that's what they measured.

But now, it's not about the number of users. It's about how the users use the site. Because to succeed in the long-term the company needs to convert those users - on their and their advertisers' behalf - into sales.

What does this have to do with you? Everything. Because just as Facebook is actively redefining what's important in their measurement systems - based on data they have and data they need - you need to do the same.

Now you may be saying, "Oh, that's Facebook. They're big and they're a technology company. We're different."

Sorry, but no, you're not. In fact, every company in every industry that has succeeded or successfully pulled itself up - whether out of bad economic cycles or complete changes in the competitive landscape - always does so through their measures.

Because you manage what you measure.

The way you want to think about this is as a form of executive and management creativity. That you and your team are going to move away from the measurement equivalent of "[we/our industry] have always done it that way" and recognize that there's rich information that you're collecting - and that you're not.

Start by asking:
  • What measures and opportunities are we looking at - because we're used to them - and, as a result, missing others?
  • Do our current measures give us the information we need to understand both existing and emerging markets - local, domestic and global...in and out of our expected sector?
  • Do we have measures that combine real-time (i.e., process), predictive (i.e., strategic) and alternative (i.e., soft) as well as results (i.e., backward looking)?
As you expand your measures, so, too, will you expand your success.


About Those Consultants...


When the email alert from FastCompanypopped up on my screen promoting an article entitled, “6Golden Rules for Turning Consulting Relationships Into Breakthroughs,” Iimmediately thought, “I’ve got to see this one.”

Mostly because, no matter what itpresented, I probably wasn’t going to believe it.  Or agree.

Not that I have anything against Mr.Vossoughi or his 27 years as an innovation consultant at Ziba.  I’m sure he’s done some very fine work.

It’s the consulting model that Ihave a problem with – and so should you.

Full disclosure, here.  I’ve worked as a confidential executiveadvisor for as long as Mr. Vossoughi. During that same time period, I’ve written and spoken and been a serialentrepreneur – and fought against the consulting model starting from the days before I started my ownbusiness and continuing, as you can see, to right now.

Why?  Because it’s a toxic model designed to create a sense ofdependency – not just for the immediate help you’re getting, but for any andevery other service the firm or its partners can justify selling you.

Don’t blame the consultants –especially if you have them in house at the moment.  (You really don’t want to get on their bad side.)  They’re stuck within the same toxicmodel as they’re imposing on you.

Instead, let’s take a quick look athow the model works – and what you can do about it now and in future wheneveryou think about bringing consulting help in.

The Consulting Model

No matter how expert in yourindustry the consultants you hire might be, the first thing to remember is thatthey’re not, actually, part of your industry.  They’re part of the consulting industry only. 

Sure, they’ve got smarts andexpertise you want – but they’re not you. They’re them and they have a different agenda than yours – even for yourcompany.

Because the way that consultingengagements work from an inside-the-consulting-firm perspective has nothing todo with the work they’re doing for you right now.  It’s all about the follow-on work that they can sell you.

If you’re playing with the Big Boys,the partners are expected to cross-sell other services.  If you’re playing with a mid-size orboutique firm, it’s in their best financial interests to generate continuingbusiness with a handful of clients rather than the senior members spending theirtime marketing.

That’s what the writing and speakingis for.  Marketing in absentia.

And even if you’re working with asmall or mid-sized firm, you can probably count on their being part of someform of consortium of consultants…which means they’re cross-selling into theother consultants’ expertise.  Justlike the Big Boys.

Don’t get me wrong.  They won’t do a ‘bad’ job for you onthe gig they’re doing.  In fact,they’ll do the best they can to do a great job for you.

It’s their agenda that’s importantfor you to know and understand. It’s not this gig.  It’s thenext.  And the one after that.  And the one after that.

So What’s an Executive To Do?

There are three keys to making theconsulting relationship make sense from a corporate perspective.  They are:

1.    Define the Terms
2.    Make Sense of the Measures
3.    Terminate.  Forever.

We’ll take them one at a time.

1. Define the Terms

You probably think you’re alreadydoing this – and you are.  At leastfrom your perspective.  But nottheirs.

When you define the terms of theengagement, limit the services you’re buying to very specific, time-limited,highly measurable outcomes – one of which is to ensure that the consultants arebuilding expertise and an infrastructure within your organization made up ofyour employees so that there is no need for the consultants to return.

2. Make Sense of the Measures

Consultants usually provide theirown measures for success.  Theypromise you that they will deliver a something – whether in the form of hoursor cost reduction or something else that they can easily tie to theiractivities.

The trick for you is to make surethat what they’re delivering ties directly into your strategic measures.  Not their operational ones.

Frankly, their measures don’t – orshouldn’t – matter to you at all. The only measures that count in your organization are the ones thatdemonstrate that the enterprise is achieving the strategic goals you set outfor it.

Otherwise – consultants or not – whyare you doing what you’re doing?

So don’t let them tell you how youmeasure the success of their activities. You tell them.

3. Terminate.  Forever.

If the consultant has any inkling atall that there’s an open door for them – or their colleagues or consortiamembers – to come back and provide new services, you’re a goner.  Remember, that’s their goal.  That’s how they win.

So, when you’re defining terms, makesure that the most important term is the time limit and the fact that they willnot be invited back again. Ever.  Even if they do thebest job in the world for you.

In fact, if they have done the bestjob, then you won’t need them back. At least not for anything like what you have them in for now.

Be polite – but show them thatthere’s a door and you’ll be escorting them through it exactly when you say youwill.  They’ll get paid – but onlyfor this gig.  They’re not going tobe able to plan their retirement around you.

A Final Word

Consultants really are wonderful forwhat they do.  They bring newknowledge, expertise and perspectives into your organization that wouldn’totherwise be readily available.

But, even as you look to theconsulting world to answer your questions, look, also at the local colleges anduniversities to see what courses – both credit and extension – areavailable.  And don’t forget thetechnical and community colleges. Sometimes they’ve got exactly the answer you need at a much lower cost.

The goal – whether with consultantsor any other means – is to build success within.  Focus on that. Make sure that your people are being developed – all the time – andyou’ll find that you don’t need as many consultants as you thought you didafter all.

You can read more about this - and other immediate fixes to your organization - in my new ebook, The Proactive Troubleshooting Guide to Quality, Change and Development Initiatives available from Amazon.

BP and Goldman: You Manage What You Measure

It is a truism that "you manage what you measure."

The reasons why are simple:

  1. The measures are deemed important enough to warrant the effort to manage directly - which means that the right information at the right time is required.
  2. What is being managed is deemed to be tied directly to the success - or failure - of the department/division/enterprise to warrant the effort.
  3. Someone's - or more than one person's - compensation and/or future existence within the enterprise are dependent upon how that particular area is performing - based on the measures.
In those cases, not only are those measures managed, but they are known by enough people to be usable for everything from strategic and operational decision making to succession planning or terminations.  

There is, however, an obverse to this as well.  Sometimes, you measure and you manage - but you don't tell.  At least not many.

Sometimes, that's necessary.  I'm a great believer in information management.  In fact, I think that not enough thought - and forethought - is put into either measurement decisions or the ways that the information from those measures are being disseminated (or not) in the enterprise.

Information just moves...as if it has a life of its own.  

(Just so you know, it doesn't.  Whenever and wherever information moves - or doesn't - there is a purpose on the part of the person making the distribution decision.  And that purpose is not always in line with what you want or are working to achieve.)

But when information - particularly measures - are seen as being purposefully withheld, more and worse questions arise.  In those cases, you're asking for trouble.  You may well deserve it.

You've entered into the world of "transparency" - and a murky, distrusted world it is.

We're watching this happen now - and you've got your choices of which organizations deserve to join the "Corporate Perp Walk Hall of Fame."  (This is the next iteration of the "Executive Perp Walks" so popular a few years ago.)

Right now, we have two major corporations tied for first place.

To start, there's Goldman Sachs not quite being upfront with their customers about what they know and when they know it - not least whether the firm is betting against what they're selling with as good as insider information.

That decision has led them to being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud - which has led to a 26% drop in their share value (to be fair, that includes a lot of other variables causing a market correction) and the possibility - if they can pull it off - of getting away with only a $1billion settlement.  (That's Goldman chump change.  In fact, they'd undoubtedly see it as a good investment.)

(On a side note, Warren Buffett has it completely wrong when he defends Goldman.  That's self-serving - he has a really big investment making lots of money from Goldman - and disingenuous.  This is an ethical issue and he well knows it.)

And, in a tie position, you've got BP - who are making a worse mess of their mess than they already created in the Gulf.

Because BP's executives are so concerned - now - with what will happen later when the litigation really hits, that their unaccepted, disingenuous replies range from:
  • "It's their fault" (not a good strategy in a Congressional hearing with the counterparts sitting next to you doing the same thing) to 
  • "It's only a moderate spill" (which is patently untrue - and sounds even worse to an angry American audience when it is said by the British accented CEO to a British television network) to 
  • "It's impossible to measure the amount of oil being spilled" (which has now been completely debunked by a quartet of scientists who figured out a way all on their own).
It doesn't matter what industry you're in - or, for that matter, what country or sector.  The problem that comes from all of this activity is that there is less and less trust extended to you by your customers.  In their eyes, they have no reason to trust you.  You're probably just like all the rest.

So, before you make your next set of decisions or as you start reviewing the most recent data being handed to you, stop and think for a moment.  Then ask yourself:
  • What are we measuring?
  • Are those measurements giving us the best, most useful information?
  • How do we know?  How are those data tied to strategic and operational goals?
  • How are these data being disseminated - and to whom?
  • Who else should get them?
And the seminal question:  What are we hiding?

Because you can count on it.  If you're hiding anything - then something is being hidden from you.

And you really don't want that keeping you up at night.