Retool for Catalytic Success

Business macrotrends are illuminating. With sufficient data, organizations like BCG, McKinsey & Bain can advise their clients better as to thought leadership positions, best practices, and optimization. As the national economy has improved from recession to stagnation or slow growth, businesses have shifted their focus from expense reduction to growth. Increasing revenues is important to companies providing goods, services, or non-profit benefits.

When Bain performed a study last year, 80 percent of the executives believed innovation to be important than cost reduction for long-term success. Also, 68 percent of respondents believed that taking care of customers and employees should come before shareholders. Bain’s interpretation: executives realize that growth depends on having happy, productive employees and satisfied customers. Shareholder returns will be the natural byproduct.

Growth Catalysts:

In the Bain survey, popular management tools were rated by respondents. Of 25 total tools, the top 3 were:

  • open innovation (expanding the sources of breakthrough products)
  • scenario and contingency planning (testing the “what ifs” to plan for the future/minimize risks) &
  • price optimization (addressing rising commodity prices). 

Social media was seen as an additional emerging tool of choice. Whether websites, micro-bogging, or online communities, there has been a growing commitment to explore the value of the medium to enhance relationships–internally as well as externally. “While only 29 percent of all respondents say they used social media in 2010, usage is expected to surge to 56 percent in 2011. Even so, executives tell us they’re uncertain about how to measure the effectiveness of this tool.”  

The standard approach with the introduction of new tools is to make a limited investment to vet the value of the tool, then make a more sizable commitment if it proves to have merit. Bain study leaders felt that this approach presented two risks:

First, while it’s understandable that companies do not want to make major investments before they fully understand how a tool will work, we have found that using tools on a limited basis consistently leads to lower satisfaction, so caution may inadvertently result in failure. The second risk we have found: companies start using a tool because their competitors are using it, or because it’s the hot topic in the business press, but if they do not fully understand how and why to use it, the experience ends up in failure.

Think of business process reengineering, where we witnessed an inverse relationship between usage and satisfaction rates when it was the hot tool of the 1990s. We witnessed reengineering drop from the tool with the fifth highest satisfaction rate in 1993 all the way to 21st in the late 1990s. It was only after usage rates declined that satisfaction began to improve again. Any time we see high usage but low satisfaction, there is cause for concern.

What Tools Work & What to Degree?

Benchmarking made a comeback a couple years ago and displaced strategic planning, a perennial No. 1, as the tool of choice. In addition to benchmarking, the most widely used tools during the recession period were strategic planning and mission and vision statements. These tools have rated in the Bain top 10 for usage over the years, regardless of the economic climate.

The survey found the least used tools included open innovation, decision rights tools and rapid prototyping. One tool that was surprisingly unpopular was mergers & acquisitions. During a downturn, M&A deals often create bargains that give the acquiring company increased scale and broadened scope. Yet in each recession we see relatively few deals. 

Among the  preferred tools, strategic planning was the tool with the highest satisfaction rating. Other tools with above-average satisfaction scores included mission and vision statements, total quality management, customer segmentation and strategic alliances. On the other end of the spectrum, downsizing, outsourcing and shared services centers–despite being seen as expense reduction tactics–were three of the five tools with below-average satisfaction scores. The other two tools with low satisfaction ratings were knowledge management and social media programs.

Due Diligence Lip Service

“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game. It is the game.”                          

 –   Lou Gerstner, former IBM chairman & CEO

Pritchett conducted a study of 135 executives from public and private companies and found that, on a 10 point scale, cultural due diligence rated a mean importance factor of  7.45. Privately held companies and private equity firms generally rated the importance higher than public companies. Yet, the same population rated their organizations’ success in blending cultures as only a 5.62. What does this mean? Have you ever heard the phrase “lip service?” It is one thing to acknowledge the importance, but something altogether difference to act in a way that supports that belief.

The study authors go on to note that, while culture is perceived as a key factor in merger success, there is not a consistent approach to measuring effectiveness, let alone the components that comprise it. Slightly less than half (49%) of organizations make an effort to measure. Privately held mid-cap companies and private equity companies set the pace in this arena. Non-profits and publicly-held large cap companies make far less effort to measure effectiveness post-merger or acquisition. 

Given, again, the relatively high value placed on the importance of culture to integrating two companies, it is dismaying that culture is not normally a part of the due diligence process. Of the executives surveyed, 4% say their teams ask specific questions about culture during vetting. Similarly, only 5% attempt to assess compatibility through some standardized means, with less than half of those administered by an objective outsider.  

It was observed that, when assessment is attempted, it tends towards subjective intuitions rather than a strategic metric. Furthermore, HR is excluded from the cultural discussion 94% of the time. On a high note, organizations that consider themselves savvy with regards to cultural due diligence perform assessments 70% of the time. 

While the results for pre-merger analysis and process are not good, those for post-merger are dismal by comparison. Only 21% of organizations surveyed have an established, repeatable process that is used consistently to facilitate seamless blending of organizations. 

The broad findings of the study were:

  1. Culture should be a more strategic consideration in the merger process. It deserves far more weight in the initial targeting of potential acquisitions or merger partners.
  2. Due diligence should scrutinize cultural aspects of the deal with the same discipline given to financial and legal issues. This simply cannot be done via a traditional culture gap analysis or compatibility survey. 
  3. Culture integration should be driven from the CEO/President level. This initiative cannot be delegated effectively. The architecture of culture strategy, plus the critical first steps of execution, belong to the leader.
  4. Organizations should be more astute in crafting their merger communications relating to cultural issues. Both the substance and timing of these messages are crucial. Management needs to be fine-tuned in managing people’s expectations, all the while shaping workforce behavior in the desired cultural direction.


Task Tyrants Steal Success

When one of my friends invited me to a continuing education luncheon offering credits I did not need, I debated whether to attend. Once there, I was engaged by strong networking and a guest speaker whose subject matter was very familiar to me–professional services marketing. However, his approach was to talk about the predictable objection of time availability. The challenge to the audience was to think about their schedules in a different way. When he pulled out Covey’s four quadrant model for time management (below), I was right at home as I use the tool often in mentoring on a variety of subjects.

If you are unfamiliar with the model, allow me to briefly explain. When performing tasks and crossing off “to-do” lists, too many people spend the majority of their time in quadrant #4–the items that are urgent yet not important.  Quadrant #1 activities demand our attention and get done. What suffers, however, are quadrant #2 tasks, which are often the last to be done but can make a huge difference in overall execution of business goals.

Jeff Nischwitz was the guest speaker and what he said next was very revealing. He said that most billable hour professionals know that marketing (or business development) should be something we place in #2, but our behavior usually places it in #3. As a result, our best intentions are not realized because we never place the appropriate priority or value on what fills our pipeline. He went on to say that, until marketing becomes a quadrant 1 focal point, our organizations will falter and stagnate rather than grow and flourish.

Pause and think about that and evaluate your use of time. If the things that matter keep being put off in favor of what commands our attention today that may not be as important in the long run, we are not managing ourselves well. The message that is sent to a new prospect, for instance, when a proposal is turned in the last day possible, or a call or email is returned much later that desired is that the relationship is insignificant because we already have enough (too much) to do.

Challenge yourself to be better–do what is important on a daily basis as though it were urgent!

Shark Tips For Second Career Entrepreneurs

“The best advice I would give to somebody is, don’t ever start a business that you are not incredibly and deeply passionate about,” said Robert Herjavec, one of the “sharks” on ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank. “It is hell, and you will spend more hours with your business than you will with your family and friends. You will have horrible days that will make you want to quit and question everything you have ever learned. Along that journey, if you don’t absolutely love what you do there is no way you will survive.”

Many people who are looking at starting a business as a second career are intrigued that, if it works out, they can create a new source of income in addition to the retirement income sources they’ve worked on for years. True entrepreneurs, however, don’t start businesses to produce money. What?

“The biggest mistake I see people do is they start a business to make money,” said Herjavec. “The problem with that is on those cold days, money doesn’t keep you warm at night. For me, it is impossible to expend the effort required to start a great business because you want to make more money.”

Passion is what is critical to successful entrepreneurship. Some would even label it fanaticism. When one is in the midst of a dogged pursuit of what is primal, success looms in the not too distant future. It is as though a deep seated conviction drives one to pursue what is the convergence of talent, inspiration, and motivation. Not everyone, though, even considers that starting a business is a possibility. Some were just not raised to think entrepreneurially.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know that people could start a business, and I always say now that if I knew what I know now, I would have dreamed bigger,” said , CEO of Canadian-based information technology company The Herjavec Group. “I don’t have an MBA, or a business degree, and I wasn’t very good at accounting. I remember when I wanted to start a business; everybody said to me, ‘you can’t do it.’ Fundamentally, I owe my success in business to the fact that I really love what I do.”

“It was really interesting because, where I came from, we lived on a farm and my grandmother raised me and everybody lived like us,” said Herjavec. “Then, we came to North America and it was my first impression of not being well off. I realized that compared to everybody else, we were really poor.”

To make a living, Herjavec began working as a newspaper deliveryman and waiter in the early 1990s.  He was able to make ends meet and learn important business lessons at the same time.  The biggest, perhaps of all, was noticing what was on the mind of his customers.

“The most important relationship in business is the one between you and your customers. All my experience is customer-related. When I was delivering newspapers, you used to have to collect the money,” Herjavec said. “When I was a waiter, it was all about maximizing a tip and ensuring enough turnover. All these odd jobs always related in different ways to customers.” 

Knowing what customers want and creating a strategy to meet their needs is critical path stuff. What else is desirable in terms of an entrepreneur’s worldview? Flexibility and good analytical skills rate highly for Herjavec.

“People ask me if there is a quality or characteristic for entrepreneurs, are they born or made?” he says. “The one characteristic that I find in most people who start a business is, they are very comfortable and adaptable to change. I always say my greatest skill is if you throw me in the middle of the forest, I’ll figure out the game.”

Finally, it is crucial that a business founder have a distinct competitive advantage. Whether taking on the 100 ton gorilla (market leader) or a local competitor, it is key to know how you are differentiated from the others. One of the best ways to stake your claim is through unique knowledge or processes.

“The other thing I notice is that lots of other entrepreneurs make the mistake of changing fields all the time and start businesses where their knowledge level isn’t very high,” said Herjavec. “I always say to my kids, become an expert at something and become such an expert at it that you can walk into a room and people will pay you for your knowledge.”

In summary, here are lessons we can learn from Robert Herjavec, aka the Shark:

  • Be extaordinarily passionate
  • Start a business because you believe you were meant to, not for income only
  • Know what the customer wants and deliver
  • Be flexible 
  • Hone your analytical skills
  • Be a lifelong learner and master of a unique subject matter

You’re No Omni; Nor Am I


Rugged individualism is highly overrated. There’s a reason why many successful business owners have either an equally strong co-founder or a significant other who is a top cheerleader. It’s because most people are simply not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. We need others. When we are willing to become transparent and admit that need, we then are taking a requisite step towards success and away from failure. 

Transparency is akin to vulnerability and is one way trust is built. Determining that you would benefit from the input of another requires humility and is hard to do. Those who dare to become interdependent, however, are amazed at the benefits. Interdependency equals collaboration. Collaboration, by definition, means that we no longer have to carry a burden–positive or negative–alone.

“The fact that I don’t have any technical background means I’m not impeded by my knowledge of what it’s going to take to build something, so I’m free to just dream up features and ideas,” says Cyrus Farudi, founder along with Omri Cohen of Capsule, a web and mobile app built for event planning, group interaction and photo sharing. “Luckily, my partner, who has a technical background, has a very ‘yes, it can be done’ attitude. There have been screaming matches when I’ve tried to get too involved in something on the tech side.”

“Collaborating is about co-laboring,” says Nilofer Merchant, innovation expert, Harvard Business Review columnist and author of The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy. “It’s not about hugs. I think people think about it as this positive thing, but it’s really about how you solve tough problems that neither party could solve on their own.”

If you’ve chosen someone based only on skills and intelligence, there might be a personality conflict that, under normal circumstances, could lead to a standoff. But you’re a team, so conflict over personalities would be distracting and frivolous. Sure, the tension of your differences might push both of you right up to the point of failure (the brink of doom, we’ll call it). But there are two reasons you’re not likely to go over the brink of doom: One, your fate is connected (by the handcuffs of mutual interest, for lack of a better metaphor); and two, because a lot of great ideas happen right before people fail–a kind of adrenaline kicks in, which keeps you from creative inaction (the abyss of “Man, we got nothin'”). The point is: Collaboration is harnessed conflict.

-Ross McCammon on

McCammon describes collaboration as “harnessed conflict.” It is important to realize that the best partnerships (not necessarily legal co-owners of a business, but in the general sense) pit people together whose worldviews can be decidedly different. Finding a way to respect one another and build consensus on how to move the organization forward is not just an internal exercise–it yields fruit outside the company in other key relationships as well!

When you set out to have a meeting with someone for collaborative purposes, here’s some advice from those who have gone before you:

  • “You have to have the difficult conversations first,” says Jim Moran, co-founder, president and COO of Yipit, a New York-based deals aggregator and recommendation service. “You have to determine who is better at what. That transparency will make everything flow.”
  • The habit of reflecting back to the other person what you have observed being communicated is a good way to build cohesion. “It’s nonverbal behavior beneath people’s awareness, but you can get skilled at doing it deliberately,” says Steve Kozlowski, professor of organizational psychology at Michigan State University and editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology. “You mirror the subtle behaviors of others during an interaction. It’s part of the attraction process. It tends to build rapport.”

Go find a new collaborator for your project/business!