Tag Archives: Strategy

Slide-free

Senior business leaders at Simeon Corp have astounded onlookers by making a significant strategic decision without the use of Powerpoint.

“I am not sure quite how it came about really. We discussed the problem at hand, and the range of possible solutions, then came to a decision,” said COO Mark Markson. “Somehow we managed all that without anyone putting a range of charts on a white background, and without a single Exec Summary.”

There was some prior communication, with the salient information shared in a concise email before the board meeting. “I kept clicking download all attachments,” said Advisor Jane Jamesen, “ready to trawl through the usual 50-slide monster. It was embarrassingly long before I realised that there was no deck attached!”

All involved cannot get over a faint sense of uneasiness with the whole process. “I know we have done the right thing for our customers, our shareholders and our employees but it just feels so naughty.”

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Macaroni and strategy

And now for something slightly different.

It’s midnight, the witching hour.  The world and his wife are asleep, but you are up, working on your start-up. This hard graft is what separates the men from the boys. How many users have you got right now? What on earth are you going to about that VC meeting in the morning? Your to-do list is longer than your arm and you’re a fully grown orangutan.

And there’s obviously a bigger question, too. The big question, for a new business.  Not just what you’re going to do next week, what are you going to do next year? What is your strategy? And as easy as it might be to put that on the back-burner, you should put it front and center.  Because it’s all too easy to get distracted.

Because I know what you’re thinking, it’s only natural. It’s absolutely delicious.  Cheesy and delicious.  Warm comfort food. But as attractive as it might seem now, it’s not what your modern day business needs.  Stop confusing Macaroni and Cheese with strategy.

That seems obvious, right?  But all too often I have seen entrepreneurs neglecting their business goals in favor of a steaming bowl of Mac and Cheese. It’s not just the carbohydrates (don’t get me started on the carbohydrates), it’s just not the right way to take your business from a half-baked idea to a fully-baked macaroni and cheese.

Metaphorically speaking, that is.  A metaphorical Mac and Cheese. I certainly don’t want one, I’m focused on business, and strategic thinking.  Customer acquisition! Competitor benchmarking!  Not a guilty bite of dairy delight.  By no means that, not that at all. I cannot think of anything worse.

You need to buckle down though, son.  Get to it on that Mac of yours, and I don’t mean macaroni. How are you going to convince that VC that you’re legit if you stink of Stilton? I know, of course, that Stilton is a delicious cheese, one of the best.  But I let alliteration get the better of me.  I’m sorry about that.

Would I like bacon on top, I hear you ask? Of course I would like bacon.  On my Excel model, that is. Not on a tasty and filling pasta-based treat. I only ever analyze user KPIs in Excel with some tasty bacon sprinkled on top.  My IT guy won’t thank me, but it helps me do business for some reason. It’s nothing at all to do with all the empty food cartons all over the floor.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

What do you mean, Mac and Cheese problem? I am a serious business man.  Just talk to my many business associates.  I go to meetings on a regular basis, and do more email than you’ve had hot dinners. Just because a man enjoys an occasional takeaway doesn’t mean he is not fit for the business world. How dare you make that accusation, on this, Mac and Cheese Monday! It’s like this day means nothing to you at all.

You impudent brat, coming in here, talking Mac and Cheese like you own the place. No. I have been eating Mac and Cheese since before you were born. You walk in here like you’re made of cheddar, when you’re not.  You’re a poxy entrepreneur and I am the big cheese. I am a Big Mac.

Ok, ok.  You were right the first time.  I know it, you know it.  You didn’t even mention Mac and Cheese earlier, that was all me. You don’t know man, back in the 90’s. Everyone was doing Mac and Cheese.  It was like a drug, just so delicious.

Please leave me, I can’t bear it.  I can’t help you with your business, I’m a wreck. All hyped up on dairy and carbs.

But don’t take the Mac and cheese, though. Please. I’m going to get me some of that.

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Business is War: Over the top

As previously discussed, the Hardly Business Review is a strong proponent of war as a metaphor for the business world. In this post, our resident historian brings learnings from the First World War to your modern-day business

The First World War was a human calamity of epic proportions, claiming almost ten million lives from 1914 to 1918, with trench warfare the best remembered mode of combat.

The definitive war of attrition, with two well-equipped combatants grinding each other down over time, trench warfare could in some ways be compared to today’s smartphone clash of the titans, or the daily battle for the consumer in supermarket aisles.

The trenches demanded the attention of the finest military minds of a generation, as both sides inched to get the upper hand, so it goes without saying that the modern business leader has a lot to learn from his military forebears.

The first change you can apply to your business is structural. If Field Marshall Haig didn’t need to be near the frontlines, then why on earth should you be anywhere near your workforce? Leadership from afar was a great success in World War I, inspiring great team loyalty, and it will likely benefit your business too. Move the CEO’s office to the Bahamas, and you’ll see a huge boost in morale.

You can also learn a lot from the hiring model adopted in the First World War.  The British Army instituted a “conscription” system in 1916, and saw an instant boost in employee numbers. If your business applies the same system to new hires, you will see significant sales growth, assuming constant revenue per employee. Don’t waste time trying to attract good applicants, just put in place a system where they are obliged by law and national duty to work for you and you’ll have no problems.

There are similar lessons to be learned for your HR department, once your veritable army of employees has been hired.  Today’s workforce is cosseted, with everyone bemoaning their work-life balance. The trenches, by contrast, were rife with disease, where the balance of interest was in terms of life and death. Today’s economy barely wobbled through the recession, while the men in the trenches went at it tooth and nail for five years.  The implication is clear: if you want a tireless workforce, worry less about personal development, and more about spreading cholera and dysentery.

What about implementing your strategy? Field Marshal Haig et al can also help you here too. While it may appear that speed of execution is crucial, the Generals of the Great War actually favoured a slow approach when going “over the top”, approaching oncoming fire in a measured and orderly fashion.  And while this tactic admittedly led to huge loss of life, the Allies did win the war (in the end). So stop worrying about first movers advantage, and adopt a snail’s pace. If it’s good enough for military men of yore, it’s good enough for you.

The final aspect of business strategy where the trenches can reassure you is innovation. In the land of technology, innovation is king, but what if none of your projects get off the ground?  What if all your new ideas fail? The key is not to worry, and to just try the same thing over again. Field Marshal Haig steadfastly believed, no matter how many times it failed, that  walking his soldiers slowly over the top would topple the German fortifications, and he was right (in the end). If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it’s just bad luck! If one advertising campaign fails, just run it again. If a new brand falls flat, give it another go.  It will surely work this time round.

So it is organisational change and strategic reassurance we receive, from these great military men. Heed this advice, and after four years and significant loss of life, your business will achieve its potential.

Hat-tip: Blackadder

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VP goes back to the classroom

Business Leaders in non-Business Places (BLiNBP) is a programme aiming to spread business insight and expertise, by placing prominent members of the business world in non-business areas. This is John’s story.

John, 45, is VP of a Fortune 500 Company, with more than 20 years of management experience, and multiple books on business strategy to his name.  A keen supporter of the programme, he took 4 weeks out of his busy business schedule to work as a nursery teacher at Bilstock Junior School, responsible for a class of 15 pre-school children.

“I wasn’t fazed at all upon arriving,” reports John.  “I have taken over business units of more than 100 grown adults, so the idea of taking over a class of toddlers was child’s play, if you’ll excuse the pun!”

John swiftly put into action the principles that he had applied in his business career, generating a list of KPIs, carrying out a SWOT analysis on each member of the class and identifying key learning milestones that would need to be met.

As is always the case when a new leader comes onto the scene, there were some hurdles to be overcome. “A lot of the team-members kept asking where their mothers were, which was pretty unprofessional,” John explains. “The previous Team Leader even appears to have had a mid-afternoon nap policy, which was a huge waste of class time.”

John soon put these issues to rights, and felt that great progress was being made. “Words learned per day was up 37%, and we were soon counting up to 20,” reports John. “I was quite smugly satisfied with the changes I had managed to enact in just one week.”

However soon it became clear that all was not well. Despite the colourful nature of the classroom, Google this wasn’t. John was very concerned: “It was apparent in week two that morale was not high, and that soon trickled down to negatively impact productivity.  Sean wasn’t even able to distinguish between turquoise and sky blue!”

John was at a loss for what to do, having been so high after week one. What had gone wrong? What was wrong with his 5-day plan?  It was only when he was sitting down with Jessica, previously one of the class’s most precocious performers, that it became clear.  “We just want to have fun,” sighed the 4-year old.  “Miss Richards used to let us have fun.”

“It was a kind of Eureka moment for me, really,” John recalls. “I had gone full speed ahead with my plan without even considering our overall strategy, what business we are actually in. I was acting like we were a Learning company, when we are really a Learning through Fun company. I had forgotten half of what we were!”

Having had this realisation, John quickly went about bringing the fun back to the classroom. Toys were brought front and centre of all learning activities, and nap-time was back on the agenda. The change was instant and profound. “Laughter returned to the classroom, and our KPIs went through the roof. Sean even started writing Haikus!”

The four weeks quickly passed, and it was with a heavy heart that John left Bilstock, with the irony being that the teacher had very quickly become the student. “I like to think that I brought some new things to the classroom.  My “Always Be Colouring” initiative, for example, was a great success,” said John. “But the lessons that I have learnt at Bilstock will stay with me for the rest of my career.”

John was quick to put in place his new learnings upon returning to his job, redefining his company’s go-to-market strategy.  “I had forgotten how important it was to remember what business you are in, I had to hear it from the mouths of babes. We have changed our strategy, and have seen dramatic growth as a result.”

John is still in touch with his class: Jessica is now a non-Executive Director on the board of his company. He naps regularly, and has “never felt better. It’s like an afternoon energy boost!”

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Business is war: Leading from the Front

The comparison of business to the art of war is often made, drawing on the experience of dead generals to address commercial problems.

While there are some aspects of war that I would certainly not inflict upon my coworkers (e.g. slaughter, copious blood), I have often found these comparisons ring true.  In this post I will discuss how applying military thinking has helped my business succeed.

One of the key components of leadership is how you are perceived by your followers – are you a strong, confident person? Or are you shy and retiring, afraid of the fight?

Hard as it may be to believe, 10 years ago I was once very much in the former camp, at least in the eyes of my team.  I spent hours poring over the literature, desperate to discover what was lacking  It soon became clear to me – I was not leading from the front.

Being the first to enter the fray is an often-used way in which military figures gain respect from their soldiers, and I found the same to be true in business.

Instead of walking to meetings willy-nilly, I began to have my teams walk behind me, in formation. When sitting at a boardroom table, I would place my seat 2 feet in front of everyone elses. In all conversations I would make sure to have the first word, and never the last.  The results were remarkable.  I was suddenly spoken to differently, by both my team and my clients.  Where previously I had been a person, I was now a leader.

I quickly reorganized the whole way we did business. I placed my office at the front of the building, with all other desks behind mine. I installed an entrance such that I could walk in backwards, ensuring that I never have any member of my organisation behind me, always leading from the front. I haven’t seen any of my co-workers’ faces in years, and business is booming. If you lead from the front maybe yours will too.

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