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I grew up in a small town along the Ohio River where high school football was a big event on Friday nights.  My house was four short blocks down the hill from the high school stadium.

I remember, as a young boy around five or six years old, standing on the sidewalk in front of my house on a crisp Friday night and looking up the street at the lights of the stadium.  I could hear the band playing, the crowd screaming, and the comments being made on the public address system.  I really did not understand what was going on, but I knew that I wanted to be there.

One night my grandfather took me up the street to the stadium.  I remember my excitement as the lights got brighter and the sounds louder.  We worked our way along the side of the stadium until we got to the back of an endzone on a small hill.  There was a chain-linked fence about ten feet wide where people could see into the stadium.  I wiggled my way between some adults until I reached the fence.  I will never forget what I saw that night.  I watched the players on the field in amazement, and thrilled to the sound of the band playing and the announcer on the PA system.  Also, I discovered something new; football fields had a strong grassy smell.  I never wanted to leave.  –  Finally, I reached the Friday night lights.

Little did I know, as a young boy standing on that sidewalk, that years later, after a lot of hard work, not only would I be playing under those lights on a Friday night, but be captain of the football team playing there.  

I wonder if I went back to that small town on a Friday night in the fall, if I would find a young boy standing on a sidewalk, looking at the lights dreaming.  I hope so because it was an incredible journey for me.

Life’s journey is full of dreams and aspirations.  Never stop following your dreams because the journey is worth all the effort.  Even if you fail to reach what you are after, you will be better because of the journey.

Courage 2

Success or failure in business can often be measured by the degree of courage in the leadership of the organization.  If you look back at the road traveled by successful businesses you will likely find a history of courageous decisions.  Did they all work? Absolutely not; but many did.  On the other hand, if you delve into the decision process of businesses that struggle to survive or have failed, you will often find timidity, faintheartedness, and denial in decision-making.  Why are decisions so difficult?  –  To many, the fear of failure and the stigma it brings on the decision-maker is the primary reason they struggle with making decisions.

Making difficult decisions is one of the most rewarding actions you can take in business because it requires preparation, deciding, action, follow-up; and yes, courage.  Note that I listed courage last.  Courage in decision-making comes from confidence; confidence comes from the process you use to make the decision.  You will often see that people who struggle with making difficult decisions do not have a methodology for processing information about the decision; therefore, they lack confidence in making a decision.

Courage is dependent on confidence, confidence requires knowledge, and knowledge requires a process.  There are many processes that businesses use in making difficult decisions, almost all of which include three responsibilities that are interdependent.  The responsibilities are knowledge development, making the decision (deciding) and implementation.  All three are dynamic and must be managed simultaneously.

Knowledge development could include projects, experimentation, analysis, and assessment; gathering information about the issue needing a decision.  It enables you to know when to make the decision.  Deciding could include, setting strategy, direction, resource allocation, and distributing responsibility; management decisions, based on the knowledge developed.  Implementation could include operating or tactical plans, organization structure, operations, and sales, marketing, and distribution projects; actions implemented to address the issue.  The three responsibilities are managed by the person responsible for making the decision.  When applied effectively, this is a simple process that is scalable within an organization.  It generates confidence which enables courage.

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, how you make decisions plays a major role in your ability to accomplish objectives.  The assumptions you use about the decision must be based on the reality of the current environment, not biases, opinions, or actions of the past.  Businesses, like people, are creatures of habit; we get comfortable with what has worked in the past.  The problem is that the world of the past no longer fits today’s reality.  We work harder and harder applying what has worked for us before and get frustrated when the desired results are not forthcoming.  Reality has moved and we don‘t know it!  A major cause for a business failing is its inability to adapt to a changing environment, which is usually the result of ineffective decision-making.  It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; my decisions are not getting me what I want, I’m losing confidence in my decision-making, I lack the courage to make the hard decisions.

Look back at some of the more difficult decisions you have made in your organization.  What process did you use to make the decision?  Did you get the desired outcome?

The Untold Story

Cafe Main St

By many measures our economy is doing great; to what degree depends, unfortunately, on the perspectives of political pundits championing a party, or the cadre of news anchors fighting for ratings. In most cases, you are led to believe that the state of our economy, good or bad, is the result of the ‘helping hand’ of government. Somewhere in all of this muck, there is a ‘real story’ that goes untold.

I assure you that while we may be in a period of positive growth, albeit not very robust, low unemployment and somewhat measured consumer confidence, the root cause is not the ‘helping hand.” Reams of economic statistics or elaborate algorithms describing some economic state miss the mark. A politician standing behind a podium in an empty chamber engaged in verbal combat with himself misses the mark. The ‘helping hand’ can only be a hindrance or a catalyst for economic prosperity, it cannot create it!

The following photograph was taken on December 30, 1917, at Pittsburgh Plate Glass on Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. My grandfather and uncle are in the photo.

Pittsburgh Plate Glass 1917_edited-4

I’ve always liked this photograph because it depicts the foundation of our economy; a business whose survival depends on its capability to create economic value. No ‘helping hand’ back then.

Well, guess what? The basic model hasn’t changed; businesses are still being formed and run to create economic value. Their success or failure is determined by their efforts, regardless of the environment; including the ‘helping hand.’ I am sure that if you could ask those in the 1917 photo if their economic environment was tough, they would, without question, say yes. Just like we do today. The difference is the structure and complexity of that environment.

I live near a small community that has a Main Street lined with a variety of small shops and eateries. Outside the downtown area are small industrial companies; manufactures, distributors, service providers, etc. Almost all of them are small privately-held companies and family businesses. This is a microcosm of the substance of our economy; the ‘real story’ that goes untold.

When you talk to these business owners, somewhere in the conversation the ‘helping hand’ topic always comes up, but it is not really described as “helping.”. But most of all, they talk about things like;

  • Plans on growing their business.
  • Developing new products or markets.
  • Fighting competition.
  • Family issues.
  • Finding qualified workers, which is the number one concern.
  • Developing better management competencies.
  • Starting another business.
  • Funding.

Main Street is the driving force of our economy; not the ‘helping hand’ of government. It won’t be a headline on national television or on the front page of newspapers, but it is without a doubt the lifeline of our economic future. It is the untold story.

 

A Story To Remember

Porch- Ocean

It was a hot sultry summer afternoon on a large veranda that overlooked the sand dunes nestled along the South Carolina coastline.  We had decided to take a break from exploring some of the local salt marshes and had just settled into several of the large iconic rocking chairs of the South when the mumble of a local conversation captured my attention.  Two octogenarians were reminiscing about their past.

“I was sixteen and driving my father’s car when the local sheriff pulled me over.  He slowly walked up to my window, bent over a little, and said; Wat’s yur name boy?”  It was beginning of an incredible conversation that captured my complete attention; to the point that I almost felt as if I were vicariously reliving their past.  It lasted almost an hour.

Story telling is a narrative that is shared in a way that it becomes meaningful to the listener.  It is also a gift to the ones that can do it.  The best “stories” to me are the ones that are based on fact, versus fiction, because they dance with the reality of everyday life.

As I look back over the years I can vividly remember the “stories” that had the greatest impact on me.  Can you?  Why did they capture your attention?  Why do you remember them?  Have you retold the story?

Each of us has, to some degree, the ability to tell stories.  What a way to send a message, teach a lesson, help someone to understand you, or your business better, capture someone’s attention, express a feeling, etc.  Put something in a context that the listener can identify with and share your story.  It may be told over and over by the listener.

Mix It Up!

diversity

One of my most memorable quotes from a business owner was, “I like people like me; people who have the same perspective of life, values, and cultural ideology.  I only hire people like me.”  Whoa!

This conversation occurred about five years ago, and I must admit, caught me off-guard.  Why?  Because for almost forty years the products and services they provided targeted a wide range of different categories of consumers.  When I asked him how his business was doing, he said that they have been slipping for years and were having trouble finding new customers. – What lens was he using to look at his market?  Perhaps he needs a different lens.

In the business world, I am still surprised by those companies who continue to hang on to a perception that is not only disconnected from reality but is damaging to their current situation.  Today’s market is not based on age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or a particular ideology.  It is very diverse and is changing at warp speed.  I don’t believe you can effectively participate in this market if you do not champion this perspective.

So why do some businesses continue to avoid dealing with this reality?  Why do they have boards, management structures, employees, etc. that don’t take advantage of the wealth of perspectives and experience across all categories of diversity?  –  Two reasons: it is just easier not to change, and they don’t know where to begin.

If you are a business owner that is stuck in this rut, get out.  Start looking at the differences in people as being an opportunity for growth in perspectives, knowledge, experience, and a connection to a more diverse market.  Mix it up!  Your view will change.

Business Strategy 2

In my last blog, I talked about the key components required for developing a Long-term Strategy.  Today I am going to talk about a few of the most common reasons Long-term Strategies (LTS) fail.  They are:

  1. Developing an LTS simply for the sake of having one. Every good organization has an LTS, so you feel you need to ‘put one together’ to be considered a ‘good’ organization.  Great cocktail talk; however, it won’t help you move forward.  If you are going to develop an LTS, do it right.
  2. Being disconnected from the reality of your environment. You MUST connect the reality of your current environment to where you want to go.  Don’t get caught up in a desired future perspective that isn’t connected to where you are coming from.  This is part of your ‘reality check’ as you move forward in your process.  It is also a critical component for resource decisions.
  3. The LTS is unrealistic because of too many objectives or goals. In other words, you simply don’t have the resources (time, people and money) to ‘effectively’ go after all of them.  A few well-defined objectives targeting critical strategic issues where adequate resources can be applied is a key ingredient for a successful LTS.
  4. You have the wrong people in leadership positions. You must be sure that the right individuals are in place to drive the design, development and implementation of the LTS.  They must be standard-bearers for the LTS to keep the company on track.
  5. Shelf-plan. I can’t tell you the number of times I have asked a business owner if they had a Strategic Plan, or Long-term Strategies; in response, they pointed to a binder on a bookshelf.  When I asked them to give me a run-down on their plan, they were unable to clearly articulate the strategic perspective and roadmap of the plan.  This is as bad as not having a plan or LTS, and perhaps worse because it gives you a false sense of comfort.
  6. Not having accountability. At every stage of development and implementation, someone must be accountable for implementing the objectives of the LTS.  This is accomplished by having measures.  It is simple; no measures, no LTS.

Remember, developing a Long-term Strategy forces you to think through all aspects of your business.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  It highlights both potential problems and uncovers opportunities.  In the end, you will be better prepared to improve the performance of your business in the future.  Avoiding these obstacles increases you chances of developing and successfully implementing your Long-term Strategy.

Business Stategy

Long-term strategy is a roadmap to a desired vision of a future state.

Long-term strategies in business are ubiquitous; everyone has them.  Just ask a business owner to tell you about his strategies and they will give you an earful.  With such a focus on these strategies, why do so many of them fail?

The primary reason many strategies fail is that they are disconnected from the environment within which they must play.  In effect, they are not designed to be clearly understood by those who must implement them.  They are often filled with buzzwords, an over inflated goal/objective, and a lack of clarity.  It sounds great, but it is hard to get your arms around.  They are devoid of elaboration, so it is up to the individual to figure out what they mean.

Long-term strategies must be both precise and broad in scope.  They are precise enough to enable the implementers to clearly understand the objective and broad enough to enable the implementers to journey beyond customary limitations; they have to be able to make adjustments to resources (time, people and money) based on what they are learning during implementation.  They must have some flexibility.

Successful long-term strategies:

  • are designed from a future perspective. You must develop a clear vision of that future state, and then design the path to get there.
  • are carefully chosen from a list of possible strategies. It is a selection process; it is choosing the most important strategies that will have the greatest chance of being successfully implemented.
  • require buy-in by senior management; i.e., commitment. Commitment must be observable.
  • require providing direction and the distribution of responsibility.
  • have a reasonable time frame; e.g., three to four years. In most businesses you cannot be precise enough in a six to ten-year strategy.
  • require making difficult choices, specifically resource decisions (time, people and money). You must make decisions without prefect data and weigh the consequences of those decisions; both to the current state and to the strategy.
  • are measurable; they have metrics.
  • are executable living documents.
  • are communicated to the proper levels of the organization.

Long-term strategies can simply be a great idea with limited action, or they can be a game plan with players on the field.  Only the latter keeps score.

Meeting2

Early in my career, I was in a very contentious business meeting where we were discussing the valuation and contribution of a business unit to the Corporation.  There were five of us.  The person responsible for the business unit, the Corporate treasurer, a major shareholder who was actively involved in the Corporation, the business unit comptroller, and me (Strategic/Financial Planning).  In the end, we decided on a strategy for moving forward.  It was my responsibility to design, implement and measure the actions necessary to implement the strategy.  –  This is what happened at the meeting.

After the meeting, I met with each individual to discuss the strategy.  I was somewhat surprised at the different perspectives.    It wasn’t as if these individuals weren’t listening, it was the fact that they processed the meeting based on their position, responsibility, vested interest, biases, and experience; which is normal.  They saw the big picture, but it was heavily tinted with their lens.  This is what really happened at the meeting.

It was up to me to pull this all together, which meant that I had to work with each individual to get a better understanding of the “corporate” perspective of the strategic objective, and how their role was critical to accomplishing that objective.  We all had to be on the same bus, and we had to leave our personal baggage on the curb.  This is the only way you can get buy-in.

I looked at this as a mathematical algorithm with five parts to the equation.  Each part could stand alone to accomplish something.  However, in order to accomplish something bigger, each part had to understand the equation and their contribution/commitment to that formula.

Never assume that everyone sees the big picture in a meeting; including you.  This applies to all meetings, even between two people.  You must test this to be sure; before you take actions.

Elderly Worker 1

It was a beautiful morning as I enjoyed my cup of coffee at a local Panera Bread waiting on a friend.  Next to me sat four gentlemen, all of whom were in their sixties, talking about how much they missed working.  From what I could tell, one had been some type of manager, one an engineer, another a salesman, and the other, I believe, a teacher.

My friend, a small business owner, arrived about fifteen minutes later.  Eventually, our conversation wandered into what I see as a major concern for companies today.  They can’t find qualified employees.  Tragically, one of the top reasons is they often fail drug tests.  In general, his business requires an average level of computer competencies, a college education or applicable experience, people skills, and self-motivation.  He will train the right people.

As we were talking about this challenge, I pointed over at the next table and asked, “Would you hire any of those men?”  His face said it all.  They are old and probably retired.  “Same question.  Would you hire any of them?”  “Probably, if they were qualified and wanted to work.”

I told him about the conversation I overheard.  At least three of these men are probably qualified to work at his company.  When it comes to the “age” thing, it is amazing how dismissive hiring people are of this group.  Maybe many of them do not want to work full-time but would work part-time.  Maybe they need some small consideration.  But most importantly, maybe they are exactly the type of employee you need.  (The lady who waited on me had to be in her seventies; working right next to someone in their twenties.)

Years ago, I was teaching a management class at a local university.  One class I devoted to “generational diversity” and how it can enrich a company culture.  They may not be as ‘up-to-date’ as younger generations but I guarantee you they are way ahead of the curve when it comes to experience.

I find it interesting that people, without hesitation, would vote for a Senator (6-year term), Congressman (2-year term), or President (4-year term), that were in their seventies, or even eighties, but wouldn’t hire someone of the same age group because they were ‘old.’

To the seniors who want to work, don’t hesitate to let people know.  To the companies desperately looking for qualified employees, reach out to this group.  You will be amazed at what is available.

 

 

Numbers.png

In 1987 a super computer could process 2,000,000,000 calculations per second.  Think about that for a ‘second.’  In other words, this is the processing power of two billion people for one second.  That was a big deal.

Fast forward thirty years.  On June 8, 2018 the US Department of Energy introduced a new supercomputer from IBM that could perform 200,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. Using all of the humans on earth (approximately 7.0 billion), it would take every human doing a calculation each second for almost a year to match what this new supercomputer could do in one second.

Take a look at the following chart.  Note the numbers (powers of 10) along the bottom.  During the late 1980’s the personal computer could perform around 12 million calculations per second (126).  Look at the current time period; about 100 billion calculations per second (1011).  To put this in perspective, the IBM super computer mentioned above is (1017).  A gigantic difference.

Information Data Transition

Source

In a decade or so, the ‘calculations per second power’ of super computers today will be available to every day users.  You may ask, what does this mean to me?  My business?

Have you been reading the articles on Artificial Intelligence?  Virtual Reality?  Block Chain?  Data Analytics?  This is an incredibly important transformation and it is going to impact everything you do.  And, it is happening quickly.  You cannot ignore the impact this is going to have on your business.

Therefore, understand the advanced technologies that will impact, or are impacting, the critical components of your business (manufacturing, distribution, logistics, marketing, etc.).  Then, find ways to utilize that power for more effective decision-making.  Don’t wait until you have to; catch-up is very expensive.

 

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