Big Important Things – risk and opportunity identification

30 11 2007

“Big Important Things” (BITs),  are local, regional, national or international circumstances or events that cannot be controlled or prevented, that have a significant effect on current and future business practices.

One should always keep in mind the impact of the “Big Important Things” (BITs) on the supply chain, customers, the competition and your industry.

Those involved in strategy and planning must understand how BITs create enormous risks and opportunities.

One can only react to BITs, they cannot be created or eliminated by an organization.

BITs would include, but not be limited to:

  • Natural and man made disasters – hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, explosions, flooding.
  • Massive economic changes – depression, recession, inflation, currency devaluation, massive layoffs
  • War and Terrorism – security measures, logistics, international trade limitations
  • Government policies – trade barriers, laws and regulations, economic sanctions, embargoes
  • New technologies, – trends and tendencies inside and outside of the industry
  • Environmental or health issues – contamination, unsafe products, epidemics
  • Legal issues – pending or current lawsuits, documentation and reporting, legal precedents
  • Significant global changes in demand or supply – shortages, increased demand
  • Energy costs – trends and tendencies

Contingency plans should be created, worst-case and best-case scenarios developed, and efforts made to lower the risk profile or strategically position the company to take advantage of possible changes in the business environment.

How to use BITs to identify areas of risk and opportunity 

  1. Analyze each of the following elements independently;  strategic raw materials, suppliers, logistics, major customers, the competition, your company, and finally your industry (local, national and internationally).
  2. What is the probability that a BIT would affect each element (impossible, low, medium, high, inevitable) and when (short-medium-long term)?  “My supplier is the only manufacturer in North America of the widgets we need, they are located on the western Florida coast and annually are affected to some degree my hurricanes and flooding.  There is a high probability that a major hurricane will hit them in the short to medium term.”
  3. Use a “what if” line of questioning for those high risk or high impact areas.  “What if a major hurricane hit my supplier and disrupted their production?
  4. What are possible scenarios to reduce your risk, or take advantage of the opportunity.  “Do I have alternative suppliers in place, extra inventory, insurance, how can I protect my customers, who else will this affect and how?
  5. Review this process at least twice a year to take into account changes in the probability of the BITs and modify the contingency plans or strategies accordingly.

Related Links

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Are you listening to what the customer needs?

9 09 2007

I have been involved in a series of meetings with business owners regarding problems in their companies. 

Declining sales and market share due to international competitors, inability to compete or a decline in the entire industry sector are some of the reasons mentioned.

Solutions that were discussed and debated including cutting costs of raw materials, increasing worker efficiency, lowering logistics costs, streamlining the administration and related costs, government intervention and protection, outsourcing and even forming alliances with the international competitors.

What struck me as incredibly odd was that not once were the customer’s needs mentioned.

Not once did anyone mention creating new ideas, products or services for the customer.

There was no discussion of investing in new technology because “things are difficult now”.

There was never a comparison made between the marketing and promotion, branding or image of the competitors versus the company’s marketing, promotion, branding and image.  Why not? 

Every comment or observation focused on lowering production and logistics costs to the customer, never on increasing the benefits to the customer.

All that mattered is “how can I sell at a lower price”.

That’s right.  The entire future of these companies, and in some cases entire industries are focused on how make their products for less.  How to beat the Chinese, Indonesia or Brazil or whatever developing country has access to cheaper raw materials or labor. 

Common sense tells us this is not a viable, long -term solution.

Each of these companies has stated in their publicity, website and in their mission statements that their focus is on the customer and on customer service.  Why aren’t the customer’s needs and future needs part of the search for solutions when sales are declining?

If the customer really truly cares only about price, your product is a commodity. 

If the customer only cares about price, they don’t care about your company’s service, advertising and promotion, attitude or participation in their business.

If you really think that the low price will guarantee the sale, cut out the customer or technical service.  Take away financing.  Take away delivery and logistics.  Forget environmental and worker protection.  Reduce your inventories.   Standardize your prices and order sizes.   Cut down on sales and promotion. 

Call me when your sales skyrocket and the money pours in. 

I suppose it’s normal when sales fall, to attack costs, and costs are a fundamental element in being competitive in certain goods and services.

It is not the only element.  It may not even be the most important one for your customer. 

It probably is the easiest area to change quickly, and requires no investment.  People like easy solutions that don’t require investment. 

The relationship with your customer, the ability to meet their needs with your product or service and allow them to make a profit is what makes business click.

How well do you know your customer? 

What problems are they facing?

Is your contribution to their product important, significant or fundamental in their success?

Do they see you as simply a supplier of a commodity or an integral part of their supply chain and future?

Have you explored how you can work with them to make them more competitive?

Once this has been accomplished, bring the results to the boardroom and start the discussion of how to aid declining sales and deteriorating margin.

Don’t stop with the easy solutions.

Look for the difficult solutions, the ones that require compromise and long-term commitment.

Look for solutions that require investment of resources; time, money, and ideas. 

These are the solutions that the competitor focused on cost is not interested in. 

These are the solutions that will provide confidence and mutual opportunities for growth.





Maximize the impact of business conferences, seminars, and special events in your organization

15 06 2007

Attending business conferences, special events, lectures, seminars, classes and courses are part of our professional lives.

Events provide great information, professional tips, up to date industry information, inspirational and motivational ideas, and fantastic opportunities to expand your business network.

Unfortunately not all the events are interesting, useful or entertaining.   At times it is a waste of time and money.

But the occasional great event is inspirational, we leave the room vibrating with ideas, enthusiasm, motivation and the desire to put the words and concepts to work in our own lives and business organization.

Two days later we forgot about what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and why it was important.

Then we sign up for another event, and the cycle repeats itself.

How can we take full advantage of the ideas, knowledge and opportunities from business events?

To get the most out of these events a bit of planning and follow through will allow you to maximize this knowledge and it’s impact in your professional and personal life.

Before you go

  1. Main reason why are you going to attend?  Write down your reasons for attending; to gain specific business knowledge, exploration (don’t know what to expect, but it might be good), my boss thinks it might be important, seek inspiration or motivation, networking opportunities.
  2. Why do you expect to learn, or who do you expect to meet?
  3. Can you do anything to prepare before you go?  Contact people before you go, read works from the author or about the topic, prepare specific questions?

After the event

  1. Write a brief,  one page, executive summary.
  2. Include the name of the event, place, date.
  3. What was the conference/event about.
  4. Note any reference materials given at the event, where are you going to file or save them?
  5. What did you learn that is applicable to you or your business?  This might be a general concept, or specific information, it’s what you want to bring back and implement.
  6. Who else in the organization should know about the information or is affected by it?
  7. Who did you meet while there, full contact information, how can they be interesting to your business in the future.
  8. What follow-up required (thank you notes, contact specific people, more research, share it with others, file it, forget it).
  9. What should be investigated further, and who should do it.
  10. What does it take to implement or disseminate the idea or knowledge in your business (resources, people, attitude, commitment).
  11. Personal comments or observations, what did you feel.
  12. Retain all these executive summaries in a file titles “Events, Conferences, Seminars, Classes, Lectures” or something similar, organize events by date, subject or month.
  13. Review your summary in 30 days and note progress or lack of progress.   What happened or didn’t happen?

The key to maximizing the impact of a special event in your organization is to take a few moments to reflect upon your objectives before attending and then summarizing your learning, next actions and follow through required after the event.

Simple, focused and effective.

Highly recommended that each attendee from your organization be required or encouraged to keep such a file, and share it with their co-workers or managers.

Related Links

Video: Mind Mapping by Stephen Pierce 

How to systematically analyze any decision for better decision making

9 steps to better decisions





Starting over

9 01 2007

Ever get involved in a project that requires modifications, and then those modifications led to more modifications and more and more?

Before you know it, the project has lost sight of it’s objectives, and the team is working on solving problems unrelated to the original goals.

I’m reminded of Rube Goldberg and his famous machines. We don’t intentionally try to complicate our work, but if we step back and look at the objectives, and the current processes and procedure in order to reach those objectives, we can often find distortions and diversions of comical proportions.

There are two simple actions that will eliminate and control our spiral into complexity and error.

  1. Step back and look at the problem, objectives and current procedures on a regular basis. What is working, what isn’t working, and why? What are you doing to modify or adjust the solution procedure or process instead of moving closer to a solution?
  2. When you discover that something is not working, and have analyzed why, don’t be afraid to START OVER. Throw out the current plan, and begin again.

We tend to avoid re-doing and restarting a project or activity because we want to salvage the time, money and effort that has been invested.

This inability to “do over” and start from scratch often prevents us from implementing better and more efficient solutions.

Our initial attempts to solve the problem have educated us about the requirements and environment. There is nothing wrong with starting over, in fact it may be the best and most efficient way to solve the problem.

Related Links

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Rube Goldberg Website





Why do we fail

22 12 2006

No one likes to fail.

We can feel foolish, outmaneuvered, incompetent, insecure, unlucky, silly, angry, overwhelmed, frustrated and in some cases afraid to try again. after suffering a defeat.

Failure is an integral part of the learning process.

Failure is required in order to become successful.

Rare is the successful individual, product or organization that has not met adversity, failure, defeat and loss.

One of the keys to success is the ability to accept failure, learn from the experience and try again.

The fear of failure is so great in some organizations that it freezes innovation, thwarts change and stifles growth.

Organizations try to reduce or limit failure by passing on historically successful methods and accumulated knowledge to new members.

Many times this information is not useful and out of date because the elements, players and dynamics of today’s challenges are quite different from those of the past.

Use the following list to analyze your current projects (and possibly prevent or limit failure), or use the list after a setback or defeat to identify where you can improve.

Reasons for business failure can be broken into 4 main groups:

Planning

  • No plan
  • Incomplete plan
  • Wrong calculations
  • Poor or incomplete interpretation of data and research
  • Failure to take into account all factors
  • Lack of experience
  • Failure to evaluate competitor reactions correctly
  • Failure to anticipate consumer response
  • Significant difference between planned and actual costs
  • Poor cash flow calculations
  • Unrealistic goals and expected outcomes
  • Underestimate risks

Information

  • Didn’t collect all the pertinent information for planning
  • Product or service was not wanted or needed by customer
  • Lack of knowledge of market
  • Lack of knowledge of customers
  • Lack of experience in the industry
  • Lack of experience in manufacturing
  • Lack of experience in sales and marketing
  • Lack of experience in administration

Operations and Follow-through

  • Lazy, didn’t do the work required
  • Undisciplined
  • Unorganized
  • No control of suppliers
  • Did not stop in time and take corrective actions
  • Did not recognize warning signs
  • Ignored warning signs
  • Did not seek professional assistance
  • Lack of attention to logistics details
  • Failure to focus on customers needs, desires and wants
  • Poorly trained personnel
  • Lack of initial capital
  • Not enough capital to maintain operations for first years

Factors outside of our control

  • Important changes in technology
  • Environmental factors
  • International, Federal, State or local government laws, regulations and legislation
  • Aggressive competitor(s)
  • Act of God
  • Change in fashion and trends
  • Theft and fraud

Related Links

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Great International Business Trip Results

16 10 2006

In any international relationship communication and understanding are critical for success.

Problems created by; language, stereotypes, misinformation, lack of information, and cultural misunderstandings combine with normal business problems to create a complicated scenario for anyone involved in international relationships and global business.

Prepare your international meetings and business presentations using the following questions as a guide to organize your ideas and focus on actions that will produce positive results for everyone involved.

6 Questions – Create Great International Business Trip Results

  1. What does this organization know about me, my company and my country?
  2. What do they think they know about me?
  3. What can I tell them that they do not know?
  4. What do I know about my international partner, culture and country?
  5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country?
  6. What can they tell me that I do not know?

1. What does this organization know about me and my company. When you walk in the room an opinion has already been formed about you, your organization, and your ability to perform in the future. These ideas are based upon facts, information and past experience.

  • What has been the history of our relationship in their country?
  • Who has been involved in our mutual business, and why?
  • What promises have been made and kept by both?
  • What promises have been made and not delivered upon?
  • What have the major problems and success been in the past?
  • Press and media, our organizations promotional material.

2. What do they think they know about me. Clarifying the unknowns or presumed realities in a relationship is crucial to success. These ideas may be very damaging and limit your ability to trust one another. What stereotypical behaviour can you avoid or prevent? What can you clarify or refute through information or actions?

  • Behaviour and reacts based upon past experience with your organization.
  • Rumour and innuendo, press and media reports.
  • Negotiation styles.
  • Business objectives.
  • Behaviour, goals and methods of doing business based upon country and cultural stereotypes.

3. What can I tell them that they do not know. Today’s business world requires trust, information and solutions. Reinforcing your need to work with your international partner, providing important information or solutions, and clarifying misunderstandings can only help the relationship.

  • Clarify or destroy cultural stereotypes.
  • Clarify business objectives and why they are important in order to reach these objectives.
  • Provide solutions and alternatives to existing situations and challenges.
  • Provide information of value for their business and strategy.
  • Clearly identify current or potential business problems.
  • Predict and have answers ready for their questions.

4. What do I know about my International partner, culture and country? What do I know is true and not innuendo or interpretation? The numbers, facts, information, agreements and past performance history of the business. Information about the country and the business culture.

5. What do I think I know about this business, culture and country? What preconceived ideas and stereotypes are you working with? What are you assuming and what has been proven?

6. What can they tell me that I do not know? What questions do you need to ask in order to verify information or create plans. What pieces of your information puzzle are missing? This is the time to get your questions answered, what are they?

Related Links

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The New Mercenaries – Outsourcing

13 10 2006

Mercenary, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary: Motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain. One who serves or works merely for monetary gain; a hireling.”

Using this definition, and forgetting the military connotations of the word (warrior for hire). The term mercenaries can be used to describe outsourcing suppliers and organizations.

Our outsourcing mercenaries are individuals or organizations that are motivated solely by monetary gain and do not share our organizations philosophies, ideals and interests.

We are hiring mercenaries to manufacture our goods, “do the dirty work”, buy time and help us compete better (and win) against the competition.

Are we weighing the long term risks of this outsourcing strategy?

Beyond the current short term cost benefits, have we identified the long-term strategic and control risks to our organizations by embracing outsourcing?

There are inherent dangers and advantages to using mercenaries. What can history tell us of mercenaries and the long term results of depending upon them?

Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince (a book about the strategy of power and control), wrote that mercenaries were not loyal, dangerous and even useless: “He who holds his State by means of mercenary troops can never be solidly or securely seated. For such troops are disunited, ambitious, insubordinate, treacherous, insolent among friends, cowardly before foes, and without fear of God or faith with man. Whenever they are attacked defeat follows; so that in peace you are plundered by them, in war by your enemies. And this because they have no tie or motive to keep them in the field beyond their paltry pay.”

The decline of the Roman Empire has been linked to the use and dependence upon mercenaries. The failure to control them, and their infiltration into positions of command and control inside the government.

Mercenaries

  • Historically tend to overthrow the power or control they do not like.
  • Adopt strategies to protect themselves from danger and risk.
  • If talented, will seek to increase their power, and if incompetent will ruin their employer.
  • Have no loyalty to the employers ideals, goals or objectives.
  • Are marked by their materialism.
  • Create their own agendas and goals
  • Their first priority is to themselves and self preservation.

Using (outsourcing) mercenaries can be positive when:

  • There is total control and agreement regarding training, quality, standards, and continual improvement.
  • The competition has access to equal or reduced resources in order to hire mercenaries.
  • There are clear short term objectives and goals, at which point the contract is finished and/or renegotiated.
  • There is clear recognition that their intervention is specialized, unique and required to create an advantage for swift campaigns or to solve specific problems.

Mercenaries and outsourcing become a risk or hazard to your organization when:

  • Mercenaries reach a level of importance and power, where their absence will provoke or contribute directly to your failure.
  • They understand your entire process or have access to your “secrets”.
  • When the competition can pay more for their services than you can.
  • Objectives are not clear, and contracts are not specific.
  • Quality standards fall, or the organization accepts below standard levels of work or products.
  • Mercenaries are relied upon to provide long term stability or to reach long term goals for your organization.
  • You forget that mercenaries respond to power and money, and not on providing quality “soldiering”.
  • You believe that by hiring mercenaries you have eliminated risk from your operations.

What risk factors and changes occur in our organization when we relinquish control over the entire process by using outsourcing mercenaries?

What happens when our outsourcing “partner” says no or begins to work for the competion?

Are we outsourcing because everyone else is, or are there fundamental long term strategic and economic reasons that support the decision?

Related Links

The Dangers of Outsourcing and What You Can Do About It

Reining in Outsourcing Risk