Invest in your business and yourself NOW!

June 10th, 2009

Every day, we hear about companies cutting back, laying off employees, cutting advertising and R&D budgets, etc. And, every day, I hear about job seekers and even those currently employed cutting back on investments in self development etc. It is the overwhelming majority. However, as I discussed in a recent newsletter feature story, being contrarian can lead to staggering, unexpected results. Why not consider bucking these trends and investing NOW?

I’ve recently read an article from the New Yorker that provides evidence on how this philosophy “works” (thanks to Alan Weiss and Mark Smith for sharing the link): (click here).

Of course, I’m not talking about investing in just anything – it is important to be selective and prioritize your precious cash flow into what will provide a significant return on investment. However, in my perspective, this should be done in both good times and bad times – why would we ever throw money down the drain in low priority projects?

It is an opportunity to stand out in the crowd. For example, in one business, we invested a small amount (although huge considering the cash available) in new product development during particularly tough economic times. Although many might have thought we were crazy investing anything above $0 when we were working diligently to avoid bankruptcy, it is that investment that allowed us to introduce a new product line which was the first step in regaining customer confidence and market share. Our small investment resulted in rapid sales growth! In another example, when I left my last role as VP of Operations and decided to start a consulting business, I absolutely knew I could help companies save money but I had no idea how to find those companies. So, although officially “unemployed” and in a “start up” mode for my business, I thought I better figure out how to find those companies – sounds obvious but it required a leap of faith to invest significant funds during this timeframe. It is one of the best decisions I made because I was able to leverage the expertise of someone who had “been there, done that” – why fall into each and every pit along the way when you can find a way to leap over them? Of course I’ve still made many mistakes along the way but, after all, as I used to tell my team, “Mistakes are good. After all, if you aren’t taking any risks, you will not succeed. However, it is the repetition of the same mistake that is bad.” So, I figure I’m doing well with my mistakes!

The bottom line to project management…

June 5th, 2009

RIGOROUS FOLLOW-UP. Although there are other ingredients, the absolute best projects will fail without rigorous follow-up. And, conversely, so-so projects can become wild successes with rigorous follow-up.

Projects are commonplace. Throughout my career, I’ve participated in projects, performed tasks for projects and led projects. In working across multilpe industries, companies ranging in size from a 1-2 person shop to Coca-Cola Enterprises, and across borders, I estimate that 70-80% of employees participate in a project in one way or another. Therefore, it is rather critical to ensure a worthwhile return on investment on projects – after all, by virtue of the time spent, there is already a significant investment……the only question is the return.

Typically the potential for the return is viable or the project wouldn’t be considered, as few companies have people with extra time on their hands to work on known, non-value add projects. Therefore, the key is execution. And one if not the largest compoment to successful execution is rigorous follow-up.

Why? In my experience, management is often times disappointed in the results of projects, as they continually move out, other priorities arise, people lose focus, etc. One way to combat these issues is through rigorous follow-up – essentially, focus alone resolves the plethora of issues. For an example of the benefits that can be achieved through rigorous follow-up, here is a case study illustrating the situation, results & how it was accomplished:

Who Has Time for Projects?

May 31st, 2009

Typically no one; however, it is critical to make the time. In our current, turbulent economic times, it is all the more essential to prioritize your activities and focus on key projects. I hear the comments all the time – we reduced staff and don’t have the time, we are struggling to get our normal jobs done and don’t have the time for extra work, etc. So, why is it so important? Many times, the quickest path to increasing productivity, profitability and cash flow is to get the right group of people together to focus on a priority activity that will directly relate to driving profit to the bottom line.

For example, throughout my career, greater than 80% of the most successful activities that directly impacted business performance were the direct result of a project. At first, I thought it was surprising that I haven’t seen more examples of solely individual successes (including my own) that impacted the bottom line. I believe this demonstrates the value of a team effort towards a common purpose – and typically delivering bottom line business results involves multiple functions, partners (suppliers, customers etc), etc. Thus, think about reprioritizing your activities and/or learning more about project management – what is most impactful to your organization and for your career path?

Why Does 2 + 2 = 7?

May 27th, 2009

From a relationship, alliance and marketing perspective, 2 + 2 = 7 or you shouldn’t pursue it! What in the world am I talking about?

We can waste an incredible amount of time working on marketing ideas and business partnerships and alliances where 2 + 2 = 4. Why bother? If you aren’t going to significantly better your results, why invest time, resources and potentially money into something that is likely to turn out as a negative return on investment when everything is considered? For example, I pursued a potential business alliance that would be the equivalent of each of us contributing the effort of $1 in order to make $2. What’s worse is that I also spent considerable time and wasted energy in the process. With that said, there are times when I still deliberately follow this course if I’m not sure whether it could turn into $7. OR if I am getting enjoyment or some other benefit from the process – money is definitely not all that matters.

On the other hand, I’ve recently had several examples of 2 + 2 = 7. I’m extremely glad I took the opportunity to pursue those alliances/ marketing ideas, as they delivered! I spent much of the Memorial Day weekend working on website updates, and if it wasn’t for the valuable input/ feedback of a relatively new friend and business alliance partner, Andrea, I could easily have spent twice as much time to achieve half the results. Another example relates to a friend from my most recent consulting project, K: we have kept in touch, and I’ve driven 3-4hrs round trip (in bad traffic) on multiple occasions to have lunch and keep in touch. One might wonder if I was off my rocker in terms of time management – and I think some did; however, my friendship and business association has definitely turned 2 + 2 = 7. She is not only a valued friend but she has also helped me overcome what seemed like insurmountable obstacles (isn’t it funny how they usually seem that way at the time?) on numerous occasions. I have not typically been known for pure creativity (re-application in new ways, seeing trends and hidden opportunities I can do, but I’ve typically left pure creativity to the experts). Therefore, I panicked when I had to develop a new graphic for my first case study – had no idea in the world where to start. I might as well have been trying to write in Russian. So, I called my friend and asked for help – of course, she not only helped me think through the process but also had a key benefit to add to another section of the case study that I had overlooked. Since leaping over the first hurdle, I suddenly had the ability to develop the next set of graphics on my own. I could give you at least a 1000 examples….

Have you considered re-thinking how to create an environment where 2 + 2 = 7 for you or your business?

Should we Follow OLD Yet Timeless Advice?

May 21st, 2009

Why not get advice from the best? I’ve been fortunate to have several conversations with a successful investment banker / turnaround expert who is 92 years old. He had a 100% success ratio – why bother asking anyone else? Of course, since I had the opportunity to ask about his secrets to success, I took my opportunity to find out how he achieved such a fantastic track record. Interestingly, his advice was largely common sense but obviously overlooked by all the companies he worked with and/or recommended for purchase/ turnaround. I’ll discuss a few of his tips in future blog posts; however, recently he mailed me an obviously old, beat up laminated card with a few business tips. He was inspired by reading my newsletter and thought I might be interested. In the cover letter, he said that he used these consistently in his past and believes they are most likely as true today as then. When someone with his success rate not only carries the laminated card around while working deals but also saves it for YEARS and YEARS and then sends it to you, it is a treasure.

On one side of the card is the following advice on “How to Handle a Problem”. The high level is as follows: Determine objective. 1) Get the facts 2) Weigh and Decide 3) Take action 4) Check results. On the other side of the card, it is labeled “Job Relations”. A supervisor gets results through people (As an aside, I was thrilled to see the connection to my newsletter). And, it continues with the “Foundations for Good Relations”: 1) Let each worker know how he is getting along 2) Give credit when due. 3) Tell people in advance about changes that will affect them. 4) Make best use of each person’s ability. Then, underlined and capitalized at the bottom is the statement, “PEOPLE MUST BE TREATED AS INDIVIDUALS”. Sounds exactly like my HR mentor Debra!

Isn’t that absolutely timeless advice? Why do we hang onto fads and the latest and greatest technology and forget the timeless, proven, simple advice?