Saturday, July 17, 2010

There are Three Kinds of People – Which One Are You?

In organizations, on boards, in social and business groups, and other similar entities, there are three kinds of people who are show up as busy and active – the PBR’s of group activities.  Each is vastly different but each has a strong influence on the group achieving success.

What’s PBR?  Planner…Buyer…Results Getter are the informal titles I use for these folks.

I can recall a project by a committee of volunteers several years ago - shortly after inception we each received a bound stack of legal-size paper about a ½ inch thick – what an impressive surprise!  Without input, one of the committee members had developed a detailed project plan to meet the project goal of increasing participation in the organizations activities.  The architect was dogged in pursuing updates to this plan and many, many hours of meeting time were spent on updates and reviews of the plan.  In the end, the committee may have had a minor effect on increasing participation but the project had morphed into maintenance of the Plan as the goal of action, instead of a tool for action to increase participation.

The Planner:  This person is usually quite organized, imposes order and structure to every situation, develops detailed documents for deadlines, dependencies, materials, and other resources – typically in minute detail.  As the project transactions grow, this information is useful as a tool to guide the progress of the project to a timely and complete conclusion.  However it is a tool not an end in itself.  The Planner tends to be so invested in process that the individual loses sight of the actual work to be done.

In the early days of the new technology explosion (early 2000’s) when my organization was going through the next upgrade of networks and internal systems to connect all locations, we were supported by an excellent network design and support firm.  When a problem developed, one tech would run a variety of diagnostics and poke around in the various computers and servers for a while and then go on-line for some research.  The eventual outcome was his recommendation to replace a piece of equipment or purchase some new equipment to solve the problem.  Acting on the recommendation we would often get up and running again for a while only to have a related problem develop.  {Would this individual keep buying new computers to correct the fixed format problems when revising written document which have hard returns after each line of text…just like the Selectric the typist used to have?}

The Buyer:  This person is quite knowledgeable about technology, equipment, software, and other aspects of business process tools that are evaluated and purchased.  In a project when the need arises, this individual is indispensable for collecting detailed information such as specs, capabilities, scalability factors, related resource requirement, and delivery timeframes.  This is put up in multiple spreadsheets and a presentation results with recommendation(s) and a purchase decision.  The Buyer is done with the project once the purchase decision has been made, but may return to check off the packing list at delivery time.  Cheerfully humming the tune “no one has been fired for buying IBM”, in their mind the project is done when the BUY decision is made.

Think for a moment about those projects you worked on or know about that were wonderfully successful.  I can picture my favorite project leader who immediately goes to what outcome is needed for a successful project and worked backwards to structure an approach to get there.  The emphasis is laser beam focused on outcome and how to achieve it on-time and in budget.  The measure of progress is based on what’s now in place that accomplishes the outcome.  The tools and aids to move the project forward are useful and necessary, but are not part of what is measured – outcome is measured and it is the target for all activity.  It is downright impressive when this person sings the single note song of results, results, results.  It reminds me of playing golf – you know the desired result and each stroke must advance you toward that result, even if behind a tree or in the weeds; you overcome the obstacle and advance. 

The Results Getter:  This person is focused on outcome and results, but is skillful in using project tools and aids (often written on the back on an envelope or napkin) to move the project forward toward the outcome.  The individual expects an update to begin with the achieved results, not a catalog of process steps working toward them.  He or she will do everything possible to obtain needed resources to complete aspects of the project, but will expect results in return.  No worries about micromanaging here – create top quality and timely results the best way you can, typically by drawing on the detailed knowledge of the doer to be creative and innovative in how it is done.  The Results Getter is there at the conclusion of the project congratulating the team for their excellent work.

People have different perceptions of what a project is and what is expected of them.  As a leader, we must be clear about the outcome expected from a project and match the results with this goal to monitor and evaluate it.  All too often we receive updates that catalog process rather than progress, in part to document activity justifying the worker’s continued employment.  If these are the ‘results’ offered, we have not been clear in what the expected project outcome is and must articulate the project vision and outcome differently until real results are achieved.

Have you worked with these three before?  Which one are you?

Our next two Sales Lab Leadership events are The New Management Is Leadership, July 20th  and
What is Web 2.0 And Why Should You Care? July 21st

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Build…Borrow…Buy… An Optimal Growth Strategy

Mother Nature gives us the cobalt blue skies with white fluffy clouds to enjoy.  She also provides the variety of the four seasons and the consistency of their renewal cycle.  However, Mother Nature hates a vacuum and will seek to fill any occurrence.  In addition, she is constantly in motion – blowing wind, rotating earth, flowing rivers,  orbiting sub-particles in the atom – everything is in motion at all times.

In business, these same natural laws also apply, although observing them in action may not be as simple as with the wind and rivers.  Once established a business is always in a cycle of motion – it grows; it contracts; it replicates; it splits…it does pretty much anything but stand still.  Business can’t be motionless – except just prior to launch and as a placeholder in the history of failed organizations.

A popular axiom is a business must always grow.  In recent times, growth has been hard to achieve.  Leaders who have been successful in growing their organizations have had to navigate world competition, a world labor market for knowledge and administrative workers, changing market demands and a contracting domestic & world economy.  Whew!  What a collection of factors to juggle while trying to successfully lead an organization.

Let’s assume away all the things that can not be changed or influenced in a definitive way by an individual or single organization – this is most of the list in the preceding paragraph.  These factors can not be ignored of course, but the leader can not plan them away either – they are dynamic constants but are external to any plan – so we will assume they are not in play for this discussion.

How does an organization grow?  Traditionally, growth was by adding new employees and resources when needed, or in advance when positioning to get ahead of the curve.  This requires capital investment and committing to increased labor costs – affecting flexibility of the organization when agility is needed.  During expansionary times, the firm ‘grows into’ meeting the additional production needs.  Thus, the organization was building to create growth.

When I opened a new regional office, this was the way we developed additional capacity – building it by hiring and training new employees and transferring experienced staff to the office, and purchasing capital equipment to outfit the facility.  We launched the office and very quickly came up to full production.

As times changed, growth looked more like an accordion – the economy expands; the markets contract; new hiring; rounds of layoffs.  So leaders would borrow people and resources when needed through strategic alliances, joint ventures and use of contract employees and leased equipment. In volatile times this approach provides the flexibility to expand quickly when appropriate and contract quickly when circumstances change.  This flexibility through borrowing people and equipment does carry an extra cost – in most cases, the unit cost to ‘borrow’ is greater than the unit cost to ‘building’ - BUT…when flexing up and down the combined cost of alliances, contract labor and leased equipment will be less expensive overall than the carrying costs of under-productive employees and capital assets during a downturn.

My approach to launching a new service line included leasing experienced talent and using an external contractor with the required equipment and trained technical staff.  Doing so permitted immediate entry into a new market and mitigated the financial impact of substantial investment before expanded cash flow.  As the volume grew, we developed our own creative staff and obtained the technical equipment and hired technical staff with a comparable reduction of ‘borrowed’ staff and equipment.

The third leg of this stool is to buy growth through merger and acquisition.  There are many sound examples acquisitions and business combinations that have created an entity which is greater then the sum of its individual parts. The key to successful M&A activity is a vision, which clearly conveys how the combined organization will have superior results compared to the independent organizations operating in a loose confederation of equals, AND detailed comprehensive due diligence.  In practice, the implementation plan (who does what on the first day of the New Organization and the transition thereafter) is a critical element for the success in operating it.

Mergers and acquisitions are costly ventures – legal, management and staff time to document the existing organizations and to create the new one; focusing only on short-term activities which enhance immediate returns; the unknowns & uncertainties during the planning reduces productivity and cause key staff to investigate other employment opportunities.  That said, a well conceived and executed merger can leap-frog the organizations ahead by as much as a decade what they could accomplish pursuing only a ‘build’ approach.

As a key staff member in a merger, I experienced first-hand the intricacies of the preparatory stage, merger plan development, and the elaborate due diligence process.  This is an exhaustive and all-encompassing activity, during which we gained incredible knowledge of both our organization as well as the other organization.  With this information at hand, the detailed planning for a combined entity was far more comprehensive and innovative than merely combining the accounting & HR departments and acquiring some additional clients.  The experience gave me a keen understanding of the place for mergers in organizational growth.

So, how does this affect today’s leaders?  Successful organizations must retain flexibility and agility to meet the challenges of doing business in the existing world economy and world markets (we can no longer focus solely on the domestic market).  Leaders will judiciously use a combination of each of the three elements of growth … build – borrow – buy … to optimize  the size and capacity of the organization to meet the market demands and satisfy client needs.  Tending to the core products and services (always with an eye to improvement & production efficiency) is a given, but seeking to identify new or different client needs and develop effective ways to meet them should always be on the radar screen.  This final element of what is needed is really a primary focus of the successful leader, trusting the managerial staff for delivery of the core products and services.  And one of the more important tools at hand is what combination of the B-B-B will yield superior results satisfying the evolving needs of current and future clients and customers.   What a great time to be in the leader’s seat!

Do you agree?  What’s been your experience with managing growth in these economic times?