Archives: February 2009

Must Read!

On his way back from New Zealand, Tom called to say, “You must read ‘NoCal vs. OldSouth,’ by Ron Brownstein, page A23, in today’s LA Times.”

Just for a Laugh!

I’ve just laughed out loud in the office reading about a recent piece of research from UK parenting group They trawled online telephone records for what they termed “most unfortunate names.” Here are a few they highlighted: Terry Bull, Tim Burr, Pearl Button, Barry Cade, Justin Case, Mary Christmas, Barb Dwyer, Doug Hole, Jo King, Anna Sasin, Paige Turner, and my personal favourite, Carrie Oakey!

US-based researchers have also highlighted the likes of Annette Curtain, Anna Prentice, and Bill Board in the same vein, and warned of career choice implications if your name is Leslie Doctor, Thoulton Surgeon or Les Plack: currently practising as a doctor, surgeon, and dentist respectively!

Does anyone know of any people whose parents didn’t think carefully enough when they named their new baby, or whose career choice has opened them up to more than a little smirking when they are first introduced?

My TPC colleague Vicki Setford has started things off by citing a gravestone near to her grandparents’ grave in East London which commemorates the late Walter Pipe …

The Heart of Business Strategy:
48 Things That Matter

Near Farewell Spit, New Zealand, windblown trees

We usually think of business strategy as some sort of aspirational market positioning statement. Doubtless that’s part of it. But I believe that the number one “strategic strength” is excellence in execution and systemic relationships (i.e., with everyone we come in contact with). Hence I offer the following 48 pieces of advice for creating a winning strategy that is inherently sustainable:

• “Thank you.” Minimum several times a day. Measure it.
• “Thank you” to everyone even peripherally involved in some activity—especially those “deep in the hierarchy.”
• Smile. Work on it.
• Apologize. Even if “they” are “mostly” to blame.
• Jump all over those who play the “blame game.”
• Hire enthusiasm.
• Low enthusiasm. No hire. Any job.
• Hire optimists. Everywhere. (“Positive outlook on life,” not mindless optimism.)
• Hiring: Would you like to go to lunch with him-her. 100% of jobs.
• Hire for good manners.
• Do not reject “trouble makers”—that is those who are uncomfortable with the status quo.
• Expose all would-be hires to something unexpected-weird. Observe their reaction.
• Overwhelm response to even the smallest screw-ups.
• Become a student of all you will meet with. Big time.
• Hang out with interesting new people. Measure it.
• Lunch with folks in other functions. Measure it.
• Listen. Hear. Become a serious student of listening-hearing.
• Work on everyone’s listening skills. Practice.
• Become a student of information extraction-interviewing.
• Become a student of presentation giving. Formal. Short and spontaneous.
• Incredible care in 1st line supervisor selection.
• World’s best training for 1st line supervisors.
• Construct small leadership opportunities for junior people within days of starting on the job.
• Insane care in all promotion decisions.
• Promote “people people” for all managerial jobs. Finance-logistics-R&D as much as, say, sales.
• Hire-promote for demonstrated curiosity. Check their past commitment to continuous learning.
• Small “d” diversity. Rich mixes for any and all teams.
• Hire women. Roughly 50% women on exec team.
• Exec team “looks like” customer population, actual and desired.
• Focus on creating products for and selling to women.
• Focus on creating products for and selling to boomers-geezers.
• Work on first and last impressions.
• Walls display tomorrow’s aspirations, not yesterday’s accomplishments.
• Simplify systems. Constantly.
• Insist that almost all material be covered by a 1-page summary. Absolutely no longer.
• Practice decency.
• Add “We are thoughtful in all we do” to corporate values list. Number 1 force for customer loyalty, employee satisfaction.
• Make some form of employee growth (for all) a formal part of values set. Above customer satisfaction. Steal from RE/MAX: “We are a life success company.”
• Flowers.
• Celebrate “small wins.” Often. Perhaps a “small win of the day.”
• Manage your calendar religiously: Does it accurately reflect your espoused priorities?
• Use a “calendar friend” who’s not very friendly to help you with this.
• Review your calendar: Work assiduously on your “To don’ts”—stuff that distracts.
• Bosses, especially near the top: Formally cultivate one advisor whose role is to tell you the truth. Regularly!
• Commit to Excellence.
• Talk up Excellence.
• Put “Excellence in all we do” in the values set.
• Measure everyone on demonstrated commitment to Excellence.

You’ll find a longer version of this as a PDF—it includes two Appendices.

(Above, windblown trees near Farewell Spit, NZ.)

2009 Recalibration: Part 2

The best source of success is already with you

Ask yourself this question: How can our current customers help us unleash the latent profit in our business?

I believe this with great conviction: Almost without exception, the most lucrative source of latent profit for most companies is in their existing customer relationships.

Let’s put this in the context of the tough situation the economy has put all of us in. Your customers have less money to spend, and your competitors, in their desperation, are doing everything they can to steal your business.

Now, ask yourself this question: How many of our customers are giving us all of the business they could?

If you are like most people, your answer to that question is somewhere between none and 20%. Yes, some of you may say that 50% of more of your customers are giving you all the business they could, but you’d be in the minority. Here’s the bottom line; we all have significant untapped potential in our existing customer relationships.

I saw an example of this potential just this morning, while I was conducting a phone consultation with a team from a mid-size, business-to-business service company. Right at the beginning of the conversation they told me that the most important issue they face is the challenge of finding new customers in this tough economy. I asked them what percent of their existing customers are giving them all the business that is reasonably possible. Their answer: Fewer than 20% of their client relationships are fully developed. Sure, new customers would be great. But their quickest route to building their business comes from building on the relationships they already have.

We spent the next half-hour talking about their existing customer relationships, and which ones had the most potential to develop additional new business. It became clear to all of us very quickly that the biggest danger they faced was to get distracted by efforts to acquire new customers and shortchange the opportunity right in front of their face: developing existing relationships. They are now well on their way to creating and implementing a plan to mine business from current customers.

So, the first, most important thing you must do to thrive in 2009 is not to cut costs, fire people, or, heaven forbid, bury your head in the sand and wait for the recession to be over. The first, most important thing you have to do is nurture and develop your existing customer relationships.

Yes, you need new customers. But this isn’t a question of “either/or,” it’s a case of “both/and,” with existing customer relationships being the thing to attend to first, foremost, and disproportionately.

[This is part 2 of a 6 part series. Click here to read part 1. For more on the idea in today's post, you can listen to Steve Yastrow's 2009 Readiness Teleseminar, in which he presents Six Readiness Questions to help you thrive in 2009. Information related to this post starts at 17 minutes into the one-hour seminar.—CM]

Basics57: From Action to Excellence

For a presentation in Auckland on Friday I created a document centered around 21 “Basics.” Upon reaching Queenstown on Saturday, as per my custom, I ended up expanding it to “Basics57.” You’ll find it below, and in PowerPoint format.

1. Action! “Bias for action.” “Ready. Fire. Aim.” “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
2. Failure. “Whoever makes the most mistakes wins.” “Reward excellent failures, punish mediocre successes.”
3. Execution! “The last 98%.” Enjoy-master the politics or flunk out. The invisible “underbelly” is the key!
4. Great things, small packages. Germany’s Mittelstand.
5. Not cool coolest of the cool. Basement Systems Inc. Jim’s Group, 2,800 franchisees, masters of dog-walking.
6. Big 4. TP’s “4 for 40,” 4 things I’ve learned in 40 years. Decentralization. Execution. Accountability. 6:15AM.
7. Clarity around core values. For living, not for shareholders—best way for shareholders to win.
8. Organizations exist to serve. Period.
9. People first. “Life success company.” “Put the customer second.” “Cathedrals devoted to human growth.”
10. “What do you think?” “Dream manager.”
11. Quality obsession.
12. No corner-cutting in tough times.
13. Design-produce Brilliant/Memorable Experiences. Everywhere. Accounting Dept. as Cirque du Soleil.
14. Keep climbing the value-added ladder. Best Buy/Geek Squad. IBM Global Services.
15. Department as “PSF”/Professional Service Firm. From “overhead” to “principal engine of value-added.”
16. “Insanely great.” “Only ones who do what we do.” “Radically thrilling.” Words matter!
17. Emotions rule. Always.
18. Brand You. Declaration of Independence. “Distinct or extinct.”
19. Design. Apple. Apple. Apple.
20. Innovate or die. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
21. R&D imperative in tough times.
22. You are who you hang out with. “Hang out with weird, get weird. Hang out with dull, get dull.”
23. Diversity for diversity’s sake.
24. Nudgery/Multiplier power/Little = Big. Pronovost’s ICU check list. Etching in the urinal.
25. Location power. The #1 underutilized invisible megalever.
26. “Business model.” Microsoft. “This is how we make money in 25 words or less.”
27. Obsessive-compulsive relationship development and maintenance. Measure it! Focus on the “underbelly”!
28. Crowdsourcing.
29. BlogPower.
30. Decency. Thoughtfulness. Value is X10 in tough times.
31. Smile. Nelson Mandela. D.D. Eisenhower. Starbucks.
32. Give good tea. Ben Franklin.
33. Dance your way to a world-altering alliance in 96 hours. Edward VII.
34. “Thank you.”
35. Apologize. Make the 3-minute call. “Three-minute call hour.”
36. Comeback power. Comeback > Perfection.
37. “Kindness is free.”
38. Transparency.
39. Accountability.
40. Enthusiasm. Energy. Exuberance.
41. Hiring #1. 2 per year/promotion power. 1st line supervisor power.
42. Pick “people people.” Select-for-intangibles.
43. Resilience. “We’ll lick ‘em tomorrow.”
44. Appetite for tough times. Tough times define your life.
45. Calendar management. “Calendars never lie.”
46. “Hard is soft. Soft is hard.” “0 for 15.”
47. Women Are the Market. “Womenomics.”
48. Women rule. Women are the best leaders.
49. Boomers-geezers have all the $$$$$.
50. Integrity.
51. Wildly “over-communicate,” especially in tough times.
52. XFX/Cross-functional excellence = Lunch management.
53. Listening. Listening-as-strategy. Hearing > Listening. Become a student!
54. Know yourself—far easier said than done.
55. MBWA/Managing By Wandering Around. “In touch” power. Measure it!
56. Show up in tough times.

Jennifer and Brad and Angelina and the Great Recession

New Zealand--Stingray in the surf

Is there a celeb magazine that doesn’t cover Jennifer and Brad and Angelina each and every week? With the next story more outrageous than its predecessor? That’s the way it feels from the grocery check-out line.

Well, it seems to me that the Eastern press is covering the Great Recession the same way—every story using adjectives more dire than its predecessors. To be sure, bad news piles on top of bad news. And every other day, it seems, GM or Citi needs another $10 billion of your and my money.

And yet there’s more to the story of America in 2009 than the lurid webs spun by Chris Matthews, Lou Dobbs, & Co. And more to the U.S.A. than Detroit and Manhattan and the bookends of PA Avenue in D.C.

Lots more.

The news is bad in California, to be sure. The state’s budget deficit is catastrophic. Foreclosures occur at the speed of light. But there’s more to California than that.

Lots more.

Though I’m in New Zealand, I email California friends and read the daily papers from SF and San Jose, my stomping grounds for three plus decades.

The panic in CA is minimal.
There’s a ton, or at least a half ton, of news about start-ups and staggering new technologies; it almost feels like business as usual.
The world continues to turn in CA.
The same world that’s stopped turning—according to the East Coast press, the Washington Post and the New York Times and CNN and MSNBC, all of which resemble an economics National Enquirer these days.

We’re in for a tough slog. Could go on for years. Yet entrepreneurs and incipient entrepreneurs and university research scientists and any number of companies (Oracle comes to mind) continue to embrace the future—at warp speed, as they have for years. (Such full speed acts of creation, smaller in number to begin with, were effectively AWOL during the Great Depression.)

There seems to be grave concern but little panic in California—remember, about 40,000,000 of us live there, though you’d never know it from the press, which seems to consider Michigan the western boundary of the U.S.A. And there’s significant, though not grave, concern and no discernable or incipient panic in New Zealand.

Yes, I think we’re in for a tough, tough slog, and a long one at that. But the Panic-from-the-East may be overblown—and thence, to some extent, perhaps to some great extent, it has the makings of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I wish Mr. Obama would come to Stanford or San Jose. I wish Chris Matthews would return for a while to his beat at the SF Examiner. I wish Lou Dobbs would take a Zen class in breathing.

A friend sent me a Peggy Noonan column from last week. Okay, she lives in the East. But she made her bones as a Reagan speech writer—Reagan is the guy, most will recall, whose sunny disposition per se squelched the panic of the eighties. (That, and, I’d remind you, a whopping deficit.) My “a friend,” Bo Burlingham, longtime superstar and spirit of Inc. magazine (and a liberal’s liberal), all but ordered me to cast my eyes upon the column’s final paragraph. I offer it below as the last words of this post:

I end with a hunch that is not an unhappy one. Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone’s garage, somebody’s kitchen, as it did in the case of Messrs. Jobs and Wozniak. The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That’s where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts.

(The picture above, from a beach in Abel Tasman Park, is a stingray on patrol. Below, NZ’s signature fern.)

New Zealand fern

As The World Turns

Gave a speech (no slides) for Westpac yesterday in Auckland. The Aussie-based bank was #100 in market cap in the world a few months ago. Now it’s the world’s #8.

FYI: Westpac is the same bank it was a few months ago—no acquisitions or other forms of expansion. Westpac didn’t grow; the others have shrunk or evaporated.

2009 Recalibration: Part 1

Your business is bursting with profits

Ask yourself this question: Where is the latent profit in our business?

No business, in the history of the world, has created all of the profit it could possibly produce—including yours. There is always money left on the table.

That is especially true in tough times like this. Our world has changed, profoundly and quickly, and we have yet to adjust to our new reality. Many of us are so shell-shocked at what’s been taken from us that we have yet to acknowledge what is left for us to take.

Your business is filled with unrealized opportunities. It is bursting with latent profit, just waiting to be unleashed. The real question is whether you will identify those opportunities and grab them. I am 100% convinced that the state of your business on January 1, 2010, has less to do with the Dow Jones Average, the unemployment rate, or the price of gas than it does with how YOU act in the meantime. (And it is in your best interest to believe this, also.)

As a first step, you want to identify the best sources of latent profit for you in this economic climate. To do this, start out by dreaming. Get in a quiet, undistracted place, and imagine it is one year from today. As you dream, imagine that 2009 was the best, most profitable year you have ever had. (Yes, this is a good dream.) Open your mind, and imagine what happened in your business to make 2009 so successful. If you open your mind, and let yourself think positively, you’ll be surprised at the ideas that flow to the surface.

I did this exercise with a client a few weeks ago. Despite the economic situation, the CEO sensed that significant opportunity was lurking below the surface. I asked the CEO and his key senior leaders to imagine the company had an incredible 2009 and 2010, and to describe the company to me on January 1, 2011. Although the company produced $15 million in revenue in 2008, it didn’t take this team long to identify a very credible, achievable $30 million business in two years.

Where did we find this opportunity?


Event: Results Group, NZ

Tom spoke today in Auckland to the rapidly growing business-coaching company Results Group and its clients. He reports that while the economy is sagging significantly in New Zealand, the atmosphere is “a million miles from the despair and fear that seem to grip the USA.”

Please let us hear from you if you were there, and if you’d like to get the PPT, here’s the link.

An Engaged Workforce

Is it an unrealistic ideal in the current business climate?

Yet another survey on employee engagement (available with registration) was published in December last year, by YouGov commissioned by Engage Group). Polling 23,600 directors, managers, and employees, they found that employee engagement is seen as one of the top three factors that drive an organisation’s success (it ranks higher than strategy) and 75% of board members believe that it improves bottom-line performance. In these times, when the news is full of redundancies (layoffs), re-organisations, and failing businesses, I’m not sure if employee engagement is high on the business agenda.

I believe it should be; the constant changes in these potentially traumatic business conditions are forcing businesses to constantly review and change how they organise themselves to be more innovative, productive, and customer-focused—in both the products they make and the services they offer. Becoming innovative and productive relies on having the right people engaged with what the organisation is aiming to deliver; with the capability and freedom to anticipate and respond to changing market requirements. These times are uncertain; engaged employees are more likely to not only cope with the changes, but also to contribute to how the business can survive (and maybe thrive).

It seems to me that, although we must pay attention to those people who are losing their jobs, we must also pay attention to the people who are staying in the business. Even before the current economic conditions hit, we found it difficult to “engage” employees; surveys reveal that only about one-fourth of the workforce is engaged and about the same amount are actively disengaged.

In my work I have seen pockets of excellence where employee engagement seems to be occurring, and many places where it is obviously not! I have been asking questions about what is happening where engagement is prevalent. A pattern appears to be taking shape in the responses I get; engagement is more likely to occur when managers purposefully include, and share power with, people within the organisation, co-creating a way of working together with their teams. There is a sense that the diverse range of people within the workplace community (not just the managers and leaders) are involved in, and feel accountable for, finding the solutions that are right for them, the business, and the future.

Is employee engagement seen as a priority in your organisation? And, if it is, how are you going about creating an environment that encourages engaged employees?

[Ruth Smith is a consultant working with Tom Peters Company in the UK (you guessed that from her spelling), and she's contributing to the blog for the first time. Welcome, Ruth!—CM]