Businesses: Shoot Thyself in Foot Much?

Real face-to-face training is becoming a fairy tale.

Companies no longer really train employees.  It saves them money to cut or minimize training and new skills programs.   And with employees no longer having to “waste” time in training, they can do more of their regular work (as well as cover some of the work that used to be done by their boss/co-worker/employee that no longer works at the company (and who may or may not ever be replaced)).  As expected, companies still make it look good and tout their commitment to the “learning/knowledge growth thing” and their extensive library of online classes employees can access (on their own time of course).

What about when you do need to hire?  There’s got to be plenty of unemployed candidates who’ve had the exact job role, right?   Those candidates will be thrilled just to get back to working and doing the exact job they had last year, right?  The recession solves the problem and keeps a lid on frivolous expenses like training new hires or cross-training employees to enable them to take on different roles in the company in the future.  Win-win!  It is win-win, right?

What’s interesting is that senior management’s cunning plan of using the recession combined with this hiring strategy is simply not working.  A recent survey confirms that employers are frustrated with the lack of skills of candidates they’re reviewing and that it is taking much longer than anticipated to fill job openings because of it.  Firms that don’t want to fill in the skills gaps of otherwise great candidates with some post-hire training essentially are annoyed that candidates’ previous employers didn’t train them well enough (think about that one for a moment… and then consider if your firm fits that ironic description).  So short-sighted, it’s almost unbelievable.  Good to Great?  Mmmmm, maybe not.

To these many, many firms I say, “Shoot thyself in foot much?”  Oh, and advice for employees and investors of these firms… short the stock. (186)


“Donations” and Other Former “Free”-bies

Has anyone else had enough of secret fees, extra charges for things that were free last year (or last week), and “mandatory donations?”

Having to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the right to pay full price for season sports tickets???  e.g.: Duke basketball fans can buy 4 season tickets at full price with a yearly donation of $15,000-$58,500.  That sure is a nice reward for your best customers, isn’t it?

A delivery charge from Domino’s Pizza accompanied by a reminder to tip the delivery guy???  Where does the delivery charge go Mr. Pizza Boss? – New laces for the sneakers he wears when he walks 2 blocks to deliver my pie perhaps???

Coming to your next flight?

My bank (ironically billed as “America’s Most Convenient Bank”), charged me 50 cents to check the balance on one of my other accounts at their in-bank ATM this week.  Really?  Yes, really-

And don’t get me started on the airlines – I fully expect pay toilets and an extra charge to recline my seat any f#%*ing day now!!!

This kind of bait and switch crap is really pissing me off and I’m putting all the young Harvard MBAs who thought this crap up on notice: Clean up your act and trade in your “Carny Scams” manual for “The Essential Peter Drucker” or I’ll find you and make you wish you had!

The Carny/Harvard MBA: “Princes Among Men” ?

Gotta run now, I see a young man in a suit taking notes at the “Pop the Balloon, Win Big Prize!” carnival booth-

Note: Museums with a specific “suggested donation” aren’t any better than these Harvard carnies’ and their scams… A “$5 Suggested Donation” sign in front of some old battle axe woman who gives you the stink-eye until you pony up is extortion, not a gentle suggestion. (23)


The secret of the fourth discipline of business

There are four main parts to any business, four simple to describe, yet hard and complex steps that every single business has to undertake to survive and succeed.
It doesn’t matter how big or small an enterprise is, these four key functions must happen.

What are these four magical areas?

Firstly every business must make something, be it bread, airplanes or a massage. A business must create something to be offered for sale.

Next you have to actually have a process for selling that thing that you do, and providing the services needed to keep it sold. Whatever you do you need to sell it to someone else to be able to keep in business? And of course this includes having a process for getting the stuff you do to your customers. And once you have sold something you need to offer some level of support to keep it sold.

And of course the third discipline is getting the money and doing it legally. Accounts, finance and the law are important areas for every business.

And then there is the fourth discipline, marketing.

Marketing is often overlooked when a company starts up, and is either seen as part of the product building or selling disciplines. But the truth is that marketing is as complex and as important as each of the other disciplines. Marketing starts when you build a clear and unique view of what it actually is your business can do for someone else. Once you understand your own value it becomes much easier to tell others about it.

It is amazing to me how few businesses actually understand what their value is. In every hundred businesses I suspect less that five actually can clearly answer these four key questions:

1. What business are you truly in
2. What problem to you solve
3. Who has this particular problem
4. How to they choose to solve that problem

Sounds easy doesn’t it? But the simple truth is that most businesses are not in the business they think they are in (no that’s not a quote from the Princess Bride).

To understand what business you are truly in, think deeply about why your customers buy your product, why you and not your competitor? Why Coke not Pepsi? Why Jet Blue and Not Delta? Why Ford and not Mercedes?

Then think about the reason your employees come to work every day, the reason beyond their salary, think about the reason you are all passionate about what you do.

Then think again about your customers, why they choose to spend money on the thing that you do. If you can clearly articulate your passion and your customer’s desires then you are getting closer.

Great marketers start with this type of thinking and build a simple and compelling understanding of the business they are in, and can effectively answer those four questions. They have a million techniques for doing this of course. But great marketers in great companies know that there is no perfect best practice they can lean upon, they have to build it for their specific business.

Every business is unique, and the clearer a business understands its own uniqueness the better it will be able to compete.

And this where marketing starts, but there is a lot more.

It’s all too easy to spend a fortune with marketing agencies and get nothing of value back. If your company doesn’t understand those key four questions listed above there is a very high chance that you are not marketing well, and are frustrated by the high costs and minimal returns.

But once you have a compelling set of answers to those keys then all of a sudden you understand who to focus on, what to say to get them excited, and you will see you marketing costs fall and your results grow.

Once you have the clearest view of what you do, why and for who, then you can focus on telling all the who’s about what and why.

Marketing is the fourth discipline of every business. If you don’t feel this passion in your business, then I suspect you are not really marketing. Most businesses use the word “marketing” but do not truly have any marketing going on. But just like in any twelve-step program, the first step is to recognize that you have the problem, and then start the process of fixing it.

To be continued …. (129)


I hate the culture of indecision

I’m a big believer in the power of doing stuff. Doing anything is good, if it turns out in doing something you made a mistake, well then you do something else to fix it and move on, with increased knowledge.

When you do something the worst that can happen is that it turns out to be the wrong thing, and so you have to work a bit harder to fix it, and then do the right thing. But you did it, whatever it was and the world kept on turning and (generally) no one died in the process.

Of course I’ve making a generalization here, but I believe people have the best intentions when they do something, pretty much anything, and when guided by your common sense and knowledge of a situation, the chances are you are doing the right thing.

In most situations where there are two (or more) choices the worst thing you can do in nothing. It’s of course entirely possible that doing nothing was the right choice, but in my experience., doing nothing is only the right choice in a very small percentage of times. But it’s the choice taken far too often.

In business and in most personal and decision making situations people who are scared of their own shadows tend to want to analyze a situation continually, as a way of avoiding decisions.

There is an old saying “look before you leap”, but there is equally another saying “he who hesitates is lost”. The ability to make a decision before absolutely every possible choice has eroded over time is the mark of a leader. Being able to take a calculated risk, is what separates those who life a valuable and full rewarding life from those who do not.

All of the greatest world leaders, business leaders, visionaries and successful people have known and act this way. It’s okay to make a mistake; it’s generally not okay to not do anything.

Without risk, despots would never have been defeated, amazing feats of engineering would never have been achieved, and the most creative businesses and geniuses would never have reached their highest levels of success.

Winston Churchill’s life was full of decisions that he made that proved to be wrong, from which he learnt his greatest lessons in humility, leadership and eventual greatness.

Many mistakes were made politically and scientifically before a man made it to the moon and back, and the lessons that were learnt lead to decades of amazing advancement in all the fields of science.
I had the honor of sitting down with each of the two founders of Hewlett Packard many years ago, and Dave Packard told me that the secret of their success lay in the simple idea of trying several really big things at a time, with the full knowledge that some of them would fail. But he was confident that the ones that would work would pay for all the research they have invest in and all the projects that had failed as well.

And he knew that the people who worked on the things that failed would be the experience that would make the successes for their company in the future. For decades HP was a company that thrived on leading the technology of the world into new areas. It was only after Bill and Dave became too old to run the company that this model slowly changed. And their company became very risk averse. They still made amazing technology, but then it was just iterations and improvements on what everyone else is doing.

They have tried many times since then to reignite the flame of innovative risk, and I truly hope they succeed.

Whenever a business chooses to eliminate all risk entirely they are forced to stop innovating and instead focus purely on efficiency.

In the paraphrased words of Peter Drucker (one of the most amazing management consultants the world has ever seen) “the role of a company is to create and keep customers, only once they can do this well, should they look at creating and keeping customers efficiently and effectively”

The bottom line is you need to truly understand why you do what you do before you worry about doing it well. If you limit what you do to just focusing on something well, you will never be able to do anything new.

If you are driving your car on the highway, and the road splits in two, you need to make a decision and make it before you hit the barrier. That’s taking a calculated risk. If you turn left and it turns out that right was the right answer, well you take the next exit come back and do it again. But if you keep going down the middle line and don’t make a decision you will crash. It happens.

In life and in business if you see people who are unable to make any form of decision, and use every technique possible to avoid looking like they are unable to make a decision, then you are looking at someone with very low self-esteem. I call the inability to make a decision “making an indecision”.

Not everyone is able to make decisions, some people work best as followers, and that’s fine, so long as they are not in positions where making indecisions effects others.

Know indecision makers for what they are!