Tag Archives: HBR

Uncompra-pension

With the turn of the tax year on April 6, regulatory changes will take place which will impact ordinary Britons’ and their livelihoods. One such change this year relates to the State Pension, and a survey by Consumer Group Which? of people approaching retirement age indicates the many are ‘confused’ by the changes.

Meanwhile an HBR focus group of people in their twenties indicates that there will be no change on April 6. “I was confused before and I’m still confused now” says Marketing Executive James. “Should I start saving now? How much will I get back? When is what taxed and why? I’m none the wiser.” Meanwhile Accountant Anna is at a loss: “I make these monthly contributions out of my salary, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where they went. Who has my savings and what does employer-matching mean anyway?”

So while these changes may be disorientating for the older generation, for the young it is business as usual.

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What is in a name?

Data Scientist is the sexiest job of the 21st Century, according to the learned scribes at the other HBR, which is pretty good for a title that has only been around for 8 years (apparently coined in 2008 at either Facebook or LinkedIn). However the question on everyone’s lips is why on earth scientists didn’t think of using data before that? And more concerningly, where did they get all their ideas from?

Data, after all, is defined as “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” That sounds pretty business crucial, and like something that should have been thought of well before the 21st century! We can only be grateful to the kind folk at Facebook or LinkedIn for rescuing us from such barbarism.

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Less meeting, more doing

In the early years of my career I seemed to spend all my days in meetings, one after the other from nine to five.  In general a lot was said, but all too often I found that too little was achieved, with the resultant verbatim Minutes document a poor substitute for the actual minutes lost along the way.

The potential people-hour cost of meetings has been noted elsewhere, with Harvard Business Review estimating recently that one company’s weekly meeting was taking up 300,000 people-hours per year!

This frittering of time always bothered me, with so much time spent merely meeting people, most of whom we probably already knew!  That is why in 2009, when I was in a more senior position, I implemented a seismic change in my company’s working culture, transitioning from Meetings to Do-ings.

While this may appear to be a basic change in company lexicon, it actually had a profound effect on the daily productivity of the business.  Suddenly the focus was on what would be done, as opposed to who would be there.  Where previously we were emphasizing the communal aspect, we were now all about what would be achieved while we were together.

This cultural change organically developed, altering the whole Do-ing occasion within the business.  Where previously we received meeting invites, we started receiving Do-vites.  Conference calls became Done-ference calls, and Minutes became Done-things.  With each definitional change, we saw a boost in our KPIs, from employee productivity to operating margin.

While we do still spend lots of time together discussing things as a team, we are no longer wishing the time away.  So perhaps next time you find yourself confronted with a directionless meeting agenda, you might move your focus from Meeting to Doing.

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Apple invests in growth with acquisition of Beets

Apple’s acquisition of Beets by Dre was widely rumoured in the blogosphere and the press, and the sale was drunkenly confirmed by Dre in a video posted on Tyrese Gibson’s Facebook page.

This has sparked a wave of articles across the internet on the exact rationale behind the acquisition. While some pundits are skeptical about the deal, in this onlooker’s opinion it is a sound business decision.

Apple is one of the most popular fruits in the world, with 250 million bushels produced in the US alone; the average person in the United States consumes approximately 10 pounds of fresh Apple per year.

It has also successfully built on the fruit itself, introducing Apple Juice and Cider as apple based drinks, and bringing out a number of related products, such as Apple Crumble.

However in recent times it has struggled to replicate its former growth, with consumers increasingly steering clear of high-sugar juices, while Banana has taken Apple’s spot as the most consumed fresh fruit.

As a result the pressure is on Apple to innovate, which has perhaps been the motivating factor behind this recent deal.

The deal is certainly unprecedented – this is the first time that Apple has acquired another food-type, let alone one with Beets’ scale.  However the formerly under-appreciated Beetroot is a hot-topic in the industry, as its numerous health benefits come to the fore, from blood pressure to cancer-protection; Beets even improve running times!

It is this that piqued Apple’s interest, as Beets are a solid bet going forwards, with a long runway of future growth as people become increasingly health-conscious.  In addition, Farmer Dre will be joining Apple as a senior executive, and will bring the company a youthful cool, which has perhaps been lacking in the last few years.

So while it may not be to everyone’s taste, this is a good decision for Apple in the long run, though your correspondent certainly hopes that there will be no Apple/Beet flavour combinations as a result.

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Making small business more like big business

Google was founded in 1998.  Facebook was founded in 2004.  In a world that has been transformed by companies that are younger than the legal drinking age, the startup has gained an almost mythical quality, with even the most cursory of Google searches yielding multiple articles encouraging  startup behaviour in larger, more established companies. Large companies with paltry single digit revenue growth are clamouring for startup gold dust, rethinking strategy, R&D and even hiring policy along the way.  However I am here to argue that the opposite should be taking place – why aren’t more startups acting like multibillion dollar corporations?

This may be against the currently held wisdom, but the numbers back it up.  Forbes’ top 10 companies in 2013 made c. $175B in profit last year, while most startups don’t even generate any revenue.  The latest and greatest startup tech companies might be valued in billions, but Walmart’s market capitalization is c. $250B.  So why on earth are business gurus imploring these leaders of industry to imitate their lesser cousins?  The sooner early-stage companies start to act like big corporate, the better.

As an entrepreneur, how is it best to go about this startup transformation?  The first step is obvious, which is to focus on shareholder value at all times.  While your shareholders are probably limited in number (indeed it might just be you), that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt this crucial tenet of big business.  It doesn’t matter if your lead developer’s latest idea could get you 100,000 new users, what does that mean in terms of market capitalisation?  It doesn’t matter if a new idea might change the way in which people interact online – if it doesn’t increase your shareholders’ dividend then you don’t want to hear it.  These things are important to big business, and as an aspiring big business, they are therefore important to you.

Having realigned your company’s focus, the next thing to do is to introduce some bureaucracy.  Big corporate has lots of hierarchy, and so should you.  Establish a layer of managers between you and your front-line workers.  Hire some managers to manage those managers, with management team leaders to oversee it all.  Introduce committees, bringing in people with disparate views, interests and competencies.  Make sure that all decisions have multiple stakeholders, with diverse and vested interests.  Only then will your startup start to mimic the dynamism of big business.

When hiring your myriad management structure, the approach is well-established – competency-based questions. Often startups focus a lot on company fit, and technical skills, when they should in fact be worrying about times their employees have historically dealt with conflict.  What about your employees’ self-reported track record when it comes to team-work, and overcoming difficult problems?  I, for one, would never hire anyone who couldn’t give me two examples of times when they have implemented change in their organisation.  I would strongly recommend that you don’t either.  Rely on competency-based questions, and you will get the loyal foot-soldiers your company needs.

Having established your structure, and hired your employees, how should you go to work?  The key is to be as prescriptive as you possibly can.  Some foolish startups encourage “free time” and “employee creativity”.  This is to be discouraged, as it wastes valuable company time, and company time is company money, and company money is shareholder value.  Lest you even consider wasting shareholder value, I will refer you to my first point – Shareholder Value, Shareholder Value, Shareholder Value.  If you focus on that, you won’t go far wrong.

These changes may all seem large scale, and fundamental, and that is because they are.  But if you are serious about making your business a big business, they are changes that you will do well to make, and you will surely be glad when you have done so.

 

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The Trouble with Presentation

A windowless conference room, on yet another company retreat.  A training session for a group of hungover junior employees. An office update in a cold Canary Wharf tower.  The settings may vary, but the scene is all too familiar: the audience are disengaged, with every other head bowed to an iPhone as the presenter stumbles through slide after slide.

The combination of big corporate’s insistence on regular meetings, and the fleeting attention spans of the smartphone masses has made it all the more difficult to connect with your audience.  Crisp, tidy presentations will no longer suffice in a world where Angry Birds is literally right there.

So what is a business leader to do?  When I consider myself, three years ago, I too faced these problems of presentation.  However, through extensive research and more importantly practice, I have managed to bring back the excitement, through wordalytics and reconceptualisation.

Make new words

Let me stop you right there, because I know that you are hooked.  What are wordalytics?  It doesn’t matter.  It is a word I made up just now, but it grabbed you, didn’t it?  The garden-variety word, constrained by a dictionary-endorsed definition, does not cut the mustard anymore.  Everyone knows lots of words, and words they know will not impress them.  Create new words, and you grab your audience’s attention.

Don’t talk about cost-savings, talk about antirevenue-extinction.  Why talk about hiring when you could instead talk about peopleisation?  This technique is well known amongst the connoisseurs, and often has ramifications beyond the presentation itself – the iPad was a word Steve Jobs made up in an investor presentation, and now it is a multi-billion dollar product.  Think outside the realms of the English language, and set your presentation free.

Pictures are powerful

Pictures famously speak a thousand words, so if my math is correct, one thousand pictures are equivalent to 1 million words.  But what does that mean to me?

Video.  Why merely tell your audience about your company’s latest and greatest hiring, when you could instead show a video of the two of you hugging it out?  Why use traditional graphs to demonstrate your company’s revenue growth, when you could instead show a video of you, standing on a mountain top?  People love pictures, and people love movies even more.  Bring your audience to the movies, and you will bring them to their feet.

Time for action

You have brought your audience along on a roller-coaster ride, with new words, and a million words worth of video.  What you need now, is more than words.  What can possibly be more than words?  Actions.  And the most powerful actions in your arsenal are the Power Poses.

Research from Harvard Business School indicates that there is a significant benefit to adopting power poses prior to a social evaluation.  I have discovered that it is even more effective to adopt such poses in the presentation itself.

Flick to final slide of your presentation, which should be a killer slide.  It should encapsulate who and what and why your presentation is.  Point to it, and hold that point.  Your point should be commanding, and silent.  Feel the electricity in the room.  And then choose your power pose: this could be standing with arms aloft, with hands on hips like Wonder Woman, or whatever feels most powerful to you.  Strike the pose, and hold it.  Hold it for a solid 60 seconds, at least.  Stare your audience down, to a man or woman, for this is more than words, this is action.  When the tension is too much to bear, drop the microphone.  You will hear them roar.

 

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