Archive for October, 2012

Don’t GPS Your Strategy

There has been some media coverage in past months about a relatively new road hazard – GPS systems. Actually it is not the GPS systems themselves that are proving a hazard, but rather the way in which some drivers have been using them.
Apparently some drivers, often tourists, have been following their GPS so religiously, they have not actually looked at the road ahead of them. Consequently they have had accidents when the road has been altered temporarily for road works and the GPS has not had the temporary change recorded.

This seems a ridiculous thing to do, but it is how many businesses approach budgets, plans and strategies. Quite often planning sessions are held once every 12 months, and at that time, strategies, project and budgets are finalized. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief to have that done for the year, and off they go, back to ‘business as usual’.

From then on, month to month, managers monitor spending against budgets and report on progress towards any goals that are being measured. Too often there is no looking up and around, to see what is actually happening for customers, other stakeholders and in the industry generally, and therefore whether these plans and budgets are still accurate. In other words, there is little strategic thinking going on in between the 12 month planning times. As a result, organizations are sometimes missing opportunities and threats that become apparent, or if someone does identify them, they are told that it is ‘not in the budget’. That might mean being behind competitors, missing opportunities or facing greater risks that needed to be the case.

So why bother doing the plan? Maybe you shouldn’t!! However there are some benefits to an executive team spending time on the process of planning. For starters, it ought to encourage strategic thinking at that time. It forces executives to take time away from business as usual to think about the operating environment, key stakeholders and other strategic issues. By doing this together, they build ideas and strategies that all parts of the organization can understand and support.
Having planned though, everyone needs to look out the window and see what might now be coming towards you and prepare. By the time you’ve finished the plan, it may need to change. That’s the process of on-going strategic thinking!


Strategy and Results

Aha, I see Winston Churchill knew about the GPS problem, before they were even invented! (see my above post)

Scott Anderson

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” –Winston Churchill

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What work?

Tomorrow is Labour Day in New Zealand (yes we do spell it with a ‘u’ in there!). It’s a day off work for many people and recognized in our legislation as an official public holiday.  It was set up to celebrate the efforts of those that achieved the 40 hour work week decades ago.  That might seem a bit of a joke now to many, who work more like 50 – 60 hours a week.  And also to the many un and under – employed, who are unable to find enough paid work.

Not only has the structure of work changed for many, but what we now call ‘work’ has changed too.  Who doesn’t spend much of their day in front of a computer?  Even my doctor has a PC on his desk and taps away throughout an appointment.  It’s mostly ‘knowledge’ work now where we are paid for our experience, creativity, innovation and relationships rather than for producing something.  Presumably we all add value and somehow result in someone, somewhere producing something.  Or does the money just go around without anyone actually producing anything tangible?  I suspect that is the case much of the time.   Many of the products and services I provide clients are intangible and many of the products and services I buy are the same.

So is what you do, work?  And if so, is it work because it is paid, or is it work because it produces something?  Or is it work because you feel tired at the end of it?  In future, what will work look like?  Will we work at all – or will robots do it all?  If so, how will we get paid?

Many of these issues have been raised by greater minds than mine, perhaps most compellingly by Jeremy Rifkin in his ‘The Future of Work’.  However, as a global society, we have not resolved many, if any, of the issues.  Going forward what skills will we need to find work that is fulfilling and that pays enough to provide for us and our families?  Will we all effectively be self-employed, and in portfolio careers?

What do you think?


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Categories: Business and Strategy

Another recession in 2013?

I just read in Forbes that economic factors could collide in mid-2013 and the recession deepen again, apparently predicted by Peter Schiff, who has an accurate track record in predicting economic falls. But he’s not the only one. I have read a number of commentators recently predicting that if this or that intervention does not happen, we are in for more economic trouble in 2013. This has to be potentially bad news for most organizations, no matter whether you are privately owned or government funded. There are government employees in Europe currently living off the goodwill of their friends and families while they wait for many weeks pay owed to them, and still unpaid. There are businesses everywhere struggling, restructuring and closing. So should you, and how do you, prepare for that?

Many people I talk to are fully expecting the economy to take some years to recover and ‘boom’ again. So it might be wise to plan for that scenario. However, it would also be wise to plan for both scenarios, on a business and personal level. If the economy continues to slowly recover, what ought you to be doing and committing to? If the economy goes back into a severe recession, what would that mean for your business or your job? By considering different scenarios, you can mitigate risk and be ready to exploit opportunities.

The economy is not the only factor you can consider in your scenarios. Anything out of your control that could have a major effect on your organization is worth applying scenario consideration to. This requires some strategic thinking, and some systems thinking to understand how different scenarios could impact different elements of your business.

We can’t really know for sure what the future holds. Not taking the time and energy to consider the possibilities though is foolhardy at best, and at worst might mean the demise of the organization or career you have worked hard to help build.


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Categories: Business and Strategy

History Always Repeats…..

My Strategic Management lecturer in College insisted that very little in business, economic and weather cycles is completely unpredictable and businesses ought to be able to plan for most eventualities, no matter how rare.  I have recently been thinking how right he was and how poorly many businesses manage that.  For instance, I have been working with a company that has had to lay off a large number of staff due to a drop in commodity prices internationally.  One of the senior managers was mortified that he had recently employed a number of recruits, leading them to believe that they had a job for many years.  That’s what the company were telling us, he told me.  And yet, when I questioned him about his experiences of the industry, he could cite at least three previous international commodity price drops that had resulted in large-scale layoffs.  So the present issues were in fact, not surprising, to anyone with industry experience.

A similar thing happened five years ago when the area I live in experienced a long dry summer and a resulting drought for a couple of months.  Many farmers were caught without enough feed for their stock and forced to sell at low prices.  There was a call from some for Central Government to offer subsidies for this ‘unpredictable’ event.  And yet, I could remember many similar summers a number of years previously (I’ve lived around this area on and off, most of my life).  Sure enough, a local agricultural paper ran a story afterwards about how farmers had, in past times, grown extra produce over early summer to tide them through the following drought, but most had stopped bothering in recent years as the weather pattern had changed!

So how do experienced managers get caught up in the belief that things have changed so significantly that external forces will not repeat?  Perhaps it’s a human condition that we want to believe good news, or perhaps we just get excited by leadership vision or good times, and forget the past too quickly.  Thinking strategically requires broad consideration of external factors, and past events and trends can help us predict more accurately possible future scenarios.  The people who can remember and relay some of those stories have a valuable role to play.  A bit of research doesn’t hurt either.

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Do I Pay or Do I Read the Ads?

A few years ago now I remember reading a prediction that companies would begin to offer two types of services to clients.  One would be a paid service, and the other free or low-cost in return for accepting advertising.  For instance, you could get a rental car at normal rates, or get one at low rates that is covered in advertising for a company, who are paying for the car rental instead of you, in return for their message being driven around.  Another example would be a paid drink at a vending machine immediately, or a reduced price one after watching 2 minutes of advertising on the screen.  The assumption at the time, as I recall, was that it was likely to be the younger generations happy to take the advertising and the older consumers more willing to pay for speed, discretion etc.  Sadly I cannot remember where I read it, but whoever wrote it was certainly on the right track because this has become common with some products and services.

I am facing a dilemma of exactly that kind right now.  I am about to source some new webinar software.  I do not currently run many webinars and certainly at this stage cannot justify the high monthly rate of some providers, however excellent their product might be.  I need to start somewhere and the product I am looking at has two options – one with a monthly fee, and one free – but the free version includes the webinar attenders have advertising displayed on their screens during the webinar.  So I find myself endeavouring to answer these questions:

If I opt for the free version, will my clients mind the advertising?  Who will, who won’t?

If I opt for the paid version, can I sell enough products and services from the webinars to cover this and more?

Will my clients have a different view about seeing advertising if the webinar is free, versus part of a paid subscription product?

Does the appearance of advertising during the webinar affect in a negative way, my own and my company brand?

If you have a view on this I would love you to share it.  In the meantime I will deliberate further and let you know in a later post what I’ve decided to do!

Categories: Business and Strategy
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