Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are You on ‘Cruise Control’ or Driven to Be the Best You Can Be?

It’s probably obvious that different people approach their work at a different pace – where some like a challenging, fast-paced environment and others have their ‘cruise control’ switched on, just going through the motions, but not really interested in pushing themselves.
The immediate thought might be that those on cruise control would be quickly spotted and dealt with – but that is not always the case. Those that have only worked in small to medium sized businesses would be right in assuming the ‘cruise control’ mentality would stick out like a sore thumb and can easily be dealt with through appraisal and disciplinary procedures. That’s unless of course the organization has a ‘cruise control’ mentality in the first place.
But in larger corporates it’s not quite that simple. Here you can find people in management positions, earning good salaries and benefits that simply don’t want to be challenged. They are happy to do their time with as few ‘challenges’ as possible – often because these challenges can put them at ‘risk’ of failing something and/or cause them to work a little bit harder than they would like, and/or highlight that they don’t have an up-to-date skill set to do the job at the highest standards.
Some big corporate cultures allow people to hide and keep performance churning over, but at a very slow pace – they often have managers above them who for some reason either don’t want to push their subordinate manager and/or who are ‘fooled’ into believing that these ‘cruise control’ managers are  ‘doing the best they can under extraordinary circumstances’.
The cruise control work pace seems to be one of those ‘unspoken’ behaviors that employees know about – but often find it hard to formally address. It certainly isn’t something that one can easily assess at interview – unless you give the person specific tasks to do - and even then you can’t be sure that’s the actual pace they’ll work at if employed.
The problem with the ‘cruise control’ mentality is that when it is adopted by people in leadership positions on people who don’t have the desire or natural inclination to work at this kind of slow pace – the leader creates a demotivated and eventually disengaged workforce. Employees who have a desire to continually improve and want to be part of the best organization need leaders that will enable them to optimize their true potential and this is done through positive engagement around a desired future state and best practice – or at least an environment that allows them to strive to be the best they can be at any point in time
It’s worth being aware that these ‘cruise control’ leaders can remain hidden in large organisations their entire career – destroying the potential their department had to create something really special during their tenure and at the same time ‘sucking’ the innovative, life-blood out of their employees. In the work place these leaders (and I use the term loosely) are very good at manipulating their environment – they like to surround themselves with like-minded people who also don’t want to put in too much effort and are pretty good at ‘selling’ their work load as ‘overstretched’ as it is – giving the impression that they don’t have the time to do more – rather than not having the inclination.
If you’ve ever worked for someone in ‘cruise control’ mode you’ll know how demotivational and frustrating the experience can be. Where these leaders will listen to your idea’s but always find reasons why the idea can’t be implemented – often blaming executives or managers further up the chain – making comments like “I’d love to support this idea but so-and-so doesn’t want us to implement any new initiatives at the moment”; where often, in these command and control like structures, the employee can’t verify whether these comments are fact or fiction.
Leadership isn’t rocket science as many would like you to think – it’s about optimizing an organizations sustainable growth through the optimization of existing and latent potential in each and every employee and bringing those individuals together in well-designed teams, in a transparent culture that makes work and innovation a pleasurable rule, rather than a strained exception.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What is Mental Strength and How Does it Apply to Business?

Most people understand the concept of physical strength, but what is mental strength and how is it applied in business.
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker is cited in Forbes, highlighting 13 key attributes of what she sees as ‘mental strong people’.
You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned.
Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.
Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge. Their biggest “fear,” if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant.
Mentally strong people don’t complain (much) about bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially about other people, as they recognize that all of these factors are generally beyond their control. In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well.
A mentally strong person strives to be kind and fair and to please others where appropriate, but is unafraid to speak up. They are able to withstand the possibility that someone will get upset and will navigate the situation, wherever possible, with grace.
A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.
There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences, but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.
A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behaviour and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.
It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.
Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.
Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they don’t depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and they can also be happy alone.
Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.
Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are ‘in it for the long haul’. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time.
If these are the key attributes of ‘mentally strong’ people – and these kind of people are an asset to an organisation, then one would expect these core behaviours to be reinforced in the workplace through training and development, and to be ‘seen’ within the organisational culture.
So the question must be – do organisations look for and develop ‘mental strength’ in their employees at all levels of the organisation – from the Board and Executive team, all the way down the organisation structure?
Morin, A. (2013). Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid. Forbes [Online:] Accessed: 27:12:2013

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is Strategy, Really?

Strategy, like leadership, is one of those business terms that in recent years has been diluted by a sudden deluge of wannabe strategy experts who are giving those that really understand strategy a bad name. The Internet and social media help spread this misinformation, to the extent that business executives are beginning to forget what strategy is really all about.
It’s worth remembering that when done properly strategy development is a process, with inputs and outputs. It’s not something that can be done in a day or two as many of the wannabe’s would like you to believe. Done properly strategy is a continuous process with a regular review and feedback ‘mechanism’ that ensures today’s organisations are dynamically looking at their business environment from a ‘true’ strategic perspective.
The inputs include the information and data used to develop the future strategy and the outputs include the implementation plan for achieving the desired strategy and the actual implementation itself which turns the ‘plan’ into reality.
Without spending time ensuring the integrity of the inputs, the strategy process becomes so full of potential errors it is really meaningless – and without the successful implementation of the strategic ‘plan’ the process is nothing more than a group exercise in ‘visioning’.
When strategies fail, they fail for various reasons at each of the three stages - input, process and output. These reasons include;
At the input stage:
  • The  integrity  and  validity  of  the  inputs,  including information, data and assumptions used to analyse and formulate the strategy;
  • The scope and comprehensiveness of the inputs, including information and data gathering. Too narrow and  opportunities  and  threats  can  be  missed  and too wide and time and effort is wasted on irrelevant information;
  • Not involving the whole organisation.

At the process stage:
  • The honesty around the interpretation and analysis of the data gathered. If organisations don’t accurately identify their ‘real’ strengths and weaknesses their optimal strategy may be compromised;
  • The ability to accurately benchmark themselves in their business environment;
  • Allocating too little time to the task;
  • Not involving the whole organisation;
At the output stage:
  • That implementation is often considered a strategic afterthought;
  • Poor   post   strategy   communication,   poor   action/ implementation planning and not involving the whole organisation;
  • The strategy is implemented through a culture of compliance, rather than through a culture of ownership;
  • Not linking the strategy to the management control mechanisms;
  • Lack of follow-up and review, forgetting that a strategy is developed in a dynamic environment, where in some industry sectors ‘key factors’ are changing on a very short-term basis;
  • Failure to review the strategy and respond to changes in the market (where executives follow the original strategy regardless of changes in the market).
Strategic analysis, therefore, is a business skill in its own right as the organisation isn’t just trying to look at whether things look good or bad (attractive or unattractive), but are also developing a detailed picture of the industry sector in which they operate; and identifying and assessing the core drivers impacting the industry and their own potential in respect of short and medium-term profitability and/or growth.
An organisation that understands and embraces strategy in the true sense of the word usually has a very positive and exciting corporate culture where, as a visitor to their organisation, you can actually feel the positive energy that the workforce exude in their quest to implement the current strategy and optimise their business objectives. It’s hard to explain in words if you haven’t experienced it – but employees seem to have an ‘energy’ about them as they walk around the building, smiling and greeting ‘visitors’ and where the conversations you overhear at reception and elsewhere are of a positive nature – not similar to other less focused organisations, where you often hear employees moaning and groaning at reception, while ‘letting off steam’.
A strategic process done properly really does add tangible short and long-term value to any sized business within any industry sector – but it does have to be done properly. There will always be people trying to make a quick ‘buck’ selling ‘strategic solutions’ – but before you ‘buy’ these solutions just check the ‘offer’ against a logical check list;
  • You have to collect the right data, upfront, about your business environment before you can develop a strategic plan. Where that data will not just be internal relating to things like cash flow; product and/or service mix; talent; research and development; systems information; capital projects and pricing; but will also relate to existing and potential customer information (and specific target markets) and competitor information;
  • The data must have integrity – otherwise you’ll already have errors upfront, which means what comes out of the strategic process will be flawed;
  • The process itself takes time and should involve the whole organisation. You need to analyse the data with integrity and be ‘open’ about what are ‘facts’ and what are ‘assumptions’ in the process. Tools like a SWOT add real value and focus to the strategic planning process;
  • Identify different strategic options for the short, medium and long-term as defined by your business sector; then accurately assess these options against your strengths and weaknesses; the threats you face and other key information like cash-flow and liquidity if appropriate;
  • Develop a detailed implementation plan – as even at this late stage, the implementation plan forces the organisation to consider resource issues that can impact the timing of the implementation process in different area across the business;
  • Ensure the organisation, at all levels, fully ‘understands’ the chosen strategy and how, through what they do on a daily basis, they contribute to achieving the strategic objective. Implementation carried out from a position of compliance is at worst doomed to failure, and at best will never optimise the full potential from the strategy and will cause internal conflict;
  • And finally, strategy is actually fun – so besides being essential to ensure you optimise your organisations growth at any point in time – it’s a really exciting dynamic process that in an organisation with a positive culture will actually, quite naturally, become part of the day to day business operations throughout the annual cycle. 
Brownbill, N. (2009). Be the Best in Business. ACC: Cape Town.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Does the Internet Support the Luxury Brand Market?

Uché Okonkwo who’s recognised worldwide as one of the pioneer luxury business strategists wrote that “luxury has been built on the foundation of certain principles that can neither be ignored nor compromised. It is a culture and a philosophy that requires understanding before the adoption of business practices because its intricacies and output are essentially different from other types of goods such as daily consumer goods, (p.303).”
But how has the luxury brand market been able to respond to the modern era of the Internet and keep their brands exclusive but at the same time modern and current, attracting the new generation of ‘luxury’ brand customers.
Brands such as Versace and Prada, for example, did not have corporate websites until 2005 and 2007, respectively; where economic as well as consumer societies have expressed bewilderment at the slowness of the luxury industry in establishing an online presence in comparison to other sectors.
A major existing paradox however lies in creating and retaining ‘the desire and exclusivity’ attributes of luxury brands on the mass and classless Internet world and at the same time maintaining and enhancing the equity of the brand. Another contradiction that luxury brands face online is the task of increasing sales and the risk of overexposure while maintaining a fragile perception of limited supply. These factors are inherently peculiar to the Internet whose central features appear to be the opposite of luxury’s core elements.
Okonkwo highlights how “the characteristics of the Internet and e-Retail are a global reach; a pull marketing approach where customers are drawn to information and purchases, rather than a push medium where customers are driven by advertising; a lack of physical contact with the goods and human contact with the sellers; a low switching cost as it takes only one click to switch between websites; fast and convenient; more product variety and access to viewing them; availability and accessibility irrespective of time and location; less powerful sales as it is easy to say no to a computer; a universal appeal and uniform information. These characteristics indicate that the Internet as a medium of communications and retail is available to a mass consumer base, which is in direct disparity with the niche consumer base that luxury goods have always targeted (p.304).”
Luxury goods are regarded as sensory in nature and this means that the human senses of visual, smell, touch and feel are considered imperative in selling luxury goods. These above factors could imply that luxury goods are unsuitable to be placed and retailed on the Internet, but then the luxury goods market haven’t had to ‘compete’ and ‘recognise’ the existence of the Internet before now. So simply writing the Internet off for this unique sector may be a bit too impulsive.
Luxury itself has always had innate characteristics that are intricate to its very being and comprise of elements that speak more to passion than reason. These include originality and creativity in product and retail conceptualisation; craftsmanship and precision in creation and production; emotional appeal and an enhanced image in brand presentation; exclusivity and limit in access and high quality and premium pricing, all for a specific clientele. The application of all these elements often requires an unwavering dedication to perfection that sometimes defies logic, and this oftentimes requires a rather narrow approach, which has consequences for business management. The natural reaction to any possibility of interrupting this approach and thought process would be ‘apprehension and resistance’, which has been the initial reaction of luxury to the advent of the Internet.
So for those organisations looking at developing a luxury branded item, it’s worth having a relook at your marketing strategy in respect of the Internet. The ‘modern’ consumer likes to be able to find things on line – and if you can give them a ‘luxury’ experience when they are there, you may be pleasantly surprised by the impact this has both on image and sales of your product in the marketplace. 
Okonkwo, U. (2009). Sustaining the luxury brand on the Internet. Journal of Brand Management. Vol.16, Issue 5/6, p.302-310.