Strategy

Creating Value: Leadership v Stewardship

Okay, let's get the blah blah blah stuff out of the way first.

You not only want to be a leader, you're convinced that you are a leader.

Good for you. You're a leader.

The question is: When it comes to creating the highest levels of value for yourself and your organization, is being a "leader" the right thing to be? Or is there something better?

There is. It's being a Steward of the present and future of your organization.

Yes, I admit, calling yourself a "Steward" isn't anywhere near as sexy sounding as calling yourself a "leader." Nor, for the most part, do people in organizations recognize what a Steward is or does.

Here's the difference:

Leaders do things for show. Stewards lead by doing the right thing.

My friend, Peter Wynne Rees, the Planning Officer for the City of London, explained it to me years ago when he described his role as a Steward overseeing the present and future of the Square Mile.

As he told me, the City of London existed for over 2000 years before he got there. His job was to make sure that he did everything he could - every day in every decision - to ensure its safety and success for the next 2000 years.

As a result, if you Google Peter's name, you'll see that he's considered worldwide a - if not the - leader in City Planning, Development and Redevelopment.

Ask him and he'll tell you: He's a Steward.

Here's what this means for you:
  • Stop sweating being called a "leader" and begin determining the real and ongoing needs of your organization
  • Begin - now - viewing your organization in timeless terms: it existed yesterday (or 2 or 20 or 200 years ago) and it will exist tomorrow
  • Think of the decisions you're making and put them into that timeless timespan - then reconsider whether they are the right decisions for all the tomorrows it's your responsibility to ensure occur
  • Treat your stewardship as a stealth strategy. Don't talk about it...unless you're asked. (Peter only told me his philosophy when I asked him a question that led, over more questions, to that answer.)
  • Do the right thing. Not just for you but, every day in every decision, for your organization and its future.
Because that's the thing about leadership versus stewardship. It's not about you and your success. It's about the success you create for others - and, as a result, achieve.

Business and Politics: Avoiding Your Organization's Fiscal Cliffs

One of my areas of expertise is tracking how business and politics intersect in the ways they operate - and, most importantly, what we can learn from both. Over the years, I've written strategy papers on the subject as well as having advised senior members of United Kingdom political parties on how business strategy can be applied to create political party success.

With all that's been going on in US politics recently, I've decided to begin posting on the subject - only in this case, focusing on what business can learn from how politics operates, at its best and at its worst.

There are important strategic, operational and profit-related lessons to be learned and applied to your business, so, no matter where you live or what your political affiliation might be, put it aside and just look at the process.

I'll look forward to your thoughts and comments.
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On January 1st, 2013, a few minutes after 11 pm, the United States House of Representatives voted to accept the Senate's bill (approved some 21 hours earlier) averting the so-called "Fiscal Cliff."

As markets around the world opened for their first trading day of the new year, they upheld the conventional wisdom that a global economic catastrophe was averted. Markets and futures were immediately up and could well stay that way. At least until the already known next 'cliff' occurs in two to three months.

So, good for Congress. They did their job. They saved the world. For the moment.

They should also be ashamed of themselves.

The reason why they deserve real scorn is because it was this exact same Congress that agreed to the "cliff" in the first place. That was in December, 2010.

Twenty-five months ago.

Why did they create the cliff? The logic was that it would motivate the elected officials to work together to solve the debt and deficit problems the US is facing.

From then until now - while those twenty-five months passed with the cliff always looming - they weren't willing to do what needed to be done for their own country as well as those world markets and economies. Right up until the last minute - and only then because it was the last minute.

Okay, so that's the politics of it. What does this have to do with you?

Like it or not...admit it or not...but you have your version of a cliff playing out in your organization on a regular basis.

It's those things that you and your employees at every level see and know and recognize out on the horizon that you'll take care of later. Some day. Soon. You're sure of it.

Only those 'things' - both little and big - grow to outrageous proportions the closer they get to whatever time limit within which you're working.

Maybe it's when your customer needs an order filled. Or you've got a new product or service launch that needs that one more thing to make sure everything goes smoothly. Or there's an expert you know you're going to need to hire to make sure that the strategy you're currently working has a chance in hell of actually succeeding.

It's anything that escalates from knowledge to emergency - simply because you or someone in your organization let it get that far.

And it gets worse.

You may well have someone you trust who has made a success of their career swooping in at the last moment to save the day.

That's all well and good when the emergency is a true emergency - not a manufactured one. If it's the latter, then whoever is playing 'hero' is anything but. In fact that person - man or woman - is the equivalent of an organizational sociopath...allowing that particular cliff to loom and get ever closer for their own purposes, frankly, not caring how it might impact others.

Including you and your business.

Because if the 'thing' escalates far enough for long enough - at least to suit your local sociopath - even with a save, you'll lose your reputation as a trusted provider. There go the orders, customers and jobs. And there goes your business.

So, as this year begins, spend some time on your own and with your leadership team to:
  1. Take a look back over the past six to eighteen months
  2. Identify those situations that escalated into crises
  3. Determine how those crises occurred (real or manufactured)
  4. Define how long in advance the problems were known
  5. Determine in each case how long it took to get from knowledge to action
  6. Specify the outcomes in each case - including but not limited to impact on operating costs, revenues, profits, customer relations, market share, reputation, etc.
  7. Identify the specific functional areas and their respective managers/team members involved in each crisis
  8. Determine whether there is a trend of occurrences by any of the people or functions involved.
As well, if you have a Lean initiative going, take the time to review the teams' measures to identify any trends from the data that show highly risky levels of variation in your processes.

Once you have the information in hand - as uncomfortable as it might be - you'll know what to do. Do it. While you still have the time.

Because the biggest difference between business and politics is that the politicians who took the US to the edge of the fiscal cliff have at least two years before there is a remote possibility of being held responsible and accountable.

For business...for your business...you don't have that luxury. 

Figure out your cliffs now - and then manage your organization so that you're designed never to get close to them again.

Customer Service: The Saddest Thing I've Seen This Year

This post was written by Penni Wells, one of the finest experts in customer service I've ever encountered. When you read this, you'll agree with me completely.
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The saddest thing I've seen this year was in Liz Gaines’ recent column about Directly.com - a new service that allows users to pay/donate funds for an answer to their questions and/or to solve problems with one of a couple dozen national and multi-national business.  I’ll bet you can guess some of them already: AT&T, Chase and, my personal favorite, Bank of America.

It was sad enough when American business saw Customer Service as one of the first areas to compromise in the name of cost cutting...by outsourcing and off-shoring the ongoing needs of their customers to low-paid, minimally trained individuals with little or no knowledge of their product or the profile of their customer.

But we have come full-circle. And because nature abhors a vacuum - and an innovator will always see an unmet need and work to fill it - here is a whole new company that will make money...and probably lots of it...because the Big Dogs' decision-makers have moved so far from their core business that they've forgotten how valuable ‘first-person’ information can be.

If you peruse the majority of Call-Center analytics you'll see the statistics they bank on:
  • The number of calls per minute
  • Average hold time
  • Average length of call, etc. 
Call-Center staff are rewarded on how fast they resolve a call, the number of calls they complete in a shift or something similar.

But what are the metrics a Call Center should be looking at? Just two:
  1. The number of calls successfully completed vs. those that could not be resolved, and 
  2. How quickly the number of calls is diminishing regarding any given issue.
There will always be calls from customers - complaints, concerns, confusion, etc. But what companies should be looking at is how they can use the calls they receive to improve what they’re doing. In all areas, all the time. This is continuous improvement.  This is using your resources. This is serving the customer and improving the organization.

Sadly, the Big Dogs won’t have a chance at this much longer. Because really smart people like the folks at Directly will have the data on the customers, the loyalty of the customers and probably end up as the Big Dogs’ consultants.
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More about Penni Wells
Read Liz Gaines' article

The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness

There's something particularly enjoyable about the shopping experience - in person and online - that some retailers simply know how to create.

They make you happy to do business with them. In fact, they make you so happy to do business with them that you begin to forget to do business with anyone else.

It's not their products or services or branding - or not necessarily. And it's not even their customer service - although that plays a part.

It's their ubiquity. Just as "xeroxing" became a verb for the action that is, in fact, photocopying, these organizations make themselves so common to your retail transactions in their spaces that they become a default.

Which is exactly their goal.

How do they do it? It's what I call "Cheerful Ruthlessness."

For those organizations that have nailed the strategy, they feel and operate and keep working to be unbeatable. They work with the assumption that there is simply no aspect of the industry in which they define themselves as leaders that they're not going to own.

And it's that bit "the industry in which they define themselves" that's most important to watch. Because that's how they become ubiquitous. They see their space as the whole space - not just an aspect of it. And particularly not as an aspect that would be defined by those outside.

That's how they fool everyone as they build and expand and then expand some more. While the competitors are looking at the company either for what they think it is or what it was in the past, these Cheerfully Ruthless companies define themselves in their own terms - and then bring the consumer right along with them.

(By the way, this is as applicable for the Big Boys as it is for the Little Guys, so everyone pay attention.)

The easiest way to explain how Cheerful Ruthlessness works is to take two primary examples: Amazon and Starbucks.

When Amazon first started, it was an online bookstore. Or so everyone thought. In fact, as everyone who wasn't paying attention found out later, it was all aspects of online retail. Here's how it goes:
  • You have a small business providing specialty items you want to sell? You can do that on Amazon.
  • You're a Big Boy but haven't been able to crack online retail? Amazon will partner with you.
  • You're a customer and you purchased something - whether for yourself or as a gift? You're going to get guidance and pings on a regular basis to 'help' you find more of the same...or different, as the system learns your preferences.
And everything comes packaged in a box with a smile on it.

After a while, no matter which aspect of the retail experience you touch, you're going to turn to Amazon. And that's exactly what Jeff Bezos, its Founder and CEO (among other titles) wanted to achieve.

It was never about being an online bookstore. That was the Test Drive. It gave the organization the chance to kick the tires of putting the internet and retailing together for the first time. But, even by Bezos' own reckoning, it was a matter of selecting what the company would start with first. That was never where it was intended to end.

Which takes us to Starbucks. In the world of ubiquity, there are those who would argue that no organization can beat Starbucks for being everywhere. But there's more to it than that.

Because Starbucks isn't just Starbucks any longer.

After all the years of expansion and brand-building followed by the years of too much expansion, negative reputation and the effort required to rebuild what was lost, Starbucks figured out two things:
  1. People drink things besides coffee that the company can make and sell, and
  2. There are people who don't like the Starbucks brand...but they still like coffee.
As a result, Howard Schultz, its Chairman and CEO (twice), has taken the company into:
  • Juice-like drinks (that have a base of green coffee beans)
  • Energy drinks (that are canned, bottled and can easily be found in your local shop, gas station or supermarket) and, most importantly, 
  • "No-name" Starbucks coffee houses.
Yes, it's very possible that you are going to a Starbucks in your neighborhood which has a neighborhood-like name ("34th Street Coffee," for example) but is, in fact, a Starbucks. Because for everyone who doesn't want to support the Big Beast coffee vendor, they can say, "Oh, I don't go to Starbucks" - but the company is still gathering their cash.

All with happy barristas serving you whatever you want.

It's Cheerful Ruthlessness. They're finding every way to get consumers through their doors or on their site or seeing their products - all the while making them feel as if they still have a choice.

And they do - which is the most important point, because, when you work it right, that's where you and your company come in.

For those who are competing against a Cheerfully Ruthless competitor, you watch, learn and change how you define your win...because, realistically, you're not going to put these guys out of business (which is their intent for you).

So, it's on you to figure out how to differentiate yourself enough that they can keep doing what they do (because they will) - while you out-perform them at every turn in your own particular part of their bigger than big space.

But, before you start, there's one thing you need to know: They're afraid of you.

Yes, you. Scared to the bones. Because what they know (and hope you don't...or hope you forget as you stress about them) is that you can do things - both online and off - that they can't. Specifically:
  • You're faster and nimbler. 
  • You're more responsive and personable. 
  • You create personal relationships while theirs are all at least one, two or three degrees of separation removed - frequently more.
b2b or b2c, those are your greatest selling points and point of differentiation. Add in your ability to be innovative and you can take and keep your piece of whatever your market is.

Business is ruthless. It's the nature of the game. Even if you're in the charity sector, you're competing against every other charity - in and out of your field - for the money people are willing to spend. And that makes you ruthless as you do your good deeds.

So, as you add Cheerful Ruthlessness to your and your organization's skill set and strategy, first stop thinking of it as a bad thing. Instead, think of it as being completely committed to:
  • Taking and keeping your particular part of your market, in part by
  • Determining what your customers need,  while moreover
  • Meeting and exceeding those expectations regularly, by
  • Building an organization that is as committed as you to those goals. 
Never feel bad about being strong and consistent and tough about what you want. As long as you're clear about what you do and where you're going, not only will you take your employees along with you (who will help you get there and beyond faster, cheaper and smarter than you ever hoped) but your customers will gleefully go along for the ride.

Because, in your ruthless commitment to their satisfaction, you've made your customers cheerful - which will bring a smile to your and all your other stakeholders' faces, too.

You Didn't Build That...Or Did You?

Just so you know, it's a trick question.

That's because the answer always is: Yes. You did.

How do I know? That's an easy one to answer: If it's yours - from start-up to SMB to multi-national - if you're at its head at this moment...whether first line supervisor or CEO...you built it.

Did you do it alone? No. Could you have? No. Will anyone ever build anything in business alone? No.

Because it doesn't work that way. Excuse the Kumbayah vernacular, but it really does take a village - no matter what kind of enterprise you've built or are trying to build.

The question, therefore, isn't about whether or not you built it. The questions you should be asking are:
  • Is it what I want?
  • How did it get this way?
  • How much history is driving our present?
  • How much is that helping or hurting us?
  • What do we need to change?
  • How've we been doing in making those changes?
  • What do we need to do differently in successfully executing the changes we need?
  • What kind of data do we have to tell us that any of the answers to the questions we just went through are actually true?
  • What kind of measures do we need to ensure we know what we're talking about now and for our future?
And those questions are just the beginning. 

Take it as said: You built it. What you want to know - and act upon - is: What do I want to do with it?

That's when you'll create the success you seek.

(If you thought I was going to go play with the politicians on this one - not this time. Frankly, when it comes to this, they don't know what they're talking about anyway.)