Hands In The Air


We’ve just returned from a family holiday in Ibiza. We have some friends who live there and work in the nightclub industry. One evening – which turned into morning! – they took us to some clubs. At one club my wife and I were invited onto the DJ booth, effectively a stage overlooking the dance floor.

At the risk of sounding completely old fashioned, I was surprised to see that most of the clubbers were looking at the stage and the DJ, rather than just dancing. It was clear that the DJ was on show as much as providing the music, and a quick wave of the DJ’s arm immediately transformed the atmosphere in the room.

It is the same for business leaders. You are always on show, and people are watching what you do at least as much as they are listening to what you have to say. One director I worked with always liked to discuss the body language the executive team should be adopting at the end of each board meeting, so that a consistent and positive message was shared across the organisation.

So, hands in the air, what do you do consciously do to display a positive body language for your organisation?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks 24 Jul 2015 – Hallelujah!

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This week’s focus: A few weeks ago I complained about the poor customer service I received at my bank, and the lack of power given to its front-line people to deliver a great experience. It seems that so many “customer service” departments of major businesses are simply in the process of ticking boxes and adhering to centrally-driven processes, rather than actually helping their customers.

Well, thanks to a recommendation from one of the readers of that newsletter, I think I’ve found an answer. He pointed me in the direction of a Swedish bank called Handelsbanken. I have now met with the personal banking manager of my local branch twice and am in the process of transferring my banking business to her.

Here’s why. If I have a problem or question I can simply call her directly, rather than a faceless call centre (I have both her office and mobile numbers, as well as her email address); if I need a loan, the decision to lend is entirely hers, without any need for approval from her superiors or a computer-based assessment tool; and when I talk to her she is not immediately trying to sell me further investment and insurance ‘products’ – as Handelsbanken focuses on its core banking services and doesn’t sell these extras.

Delivering a great customer experience in the banking industry is possible, after all. As with any great service companies, however, it demands a real focus on what customers actually want and some clear decisions and trade-offs about the products and services offered and the way the business is organised.

What would your company look like if it were more clearly focused on your customers’ priorities and delivering the best experience possible, and what benefits could that deliver to its long-term success?

Off The Record: Jolly Banker by Woodie Guthrie

If you show me you need it, I’ll let you have credit
I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I
Just brink me back two, for the one I lend you
Singing I’m a jolly banker, jolly banker am I

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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New White Paper: Innovation Acceleration

Delighted to announce that my latest ‘white paper’, Innovation Acceleration: How to radically transform growth by rapidly creating innovation-focused organisations is now available to download – click here.

In this paper you will learn how to:

  • Release the innovation brakes in your business
  • Achieve your organisation’s innovation potential
  • Establish a clear innovation ambition
  • Implement 5 critical innovation accelerators

Coins and plant, isolated on white background

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks 17 July 2015 – Ground-Level Strategy

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This week’s focus: High-level visions and strategies are about as useful to your people as an airliner is to commuters waiting in a bus queue. The bus passengers may briefly look up and notice the vapour trail, but even if the plane is travelling in the same direction, it cannot possibly help them reach their destination.

Similarly, your strategy will have no discernible effect on your organisation unless you can bring it down to earth and make it tangible. This means, among other things, spending the time and effort to communicate your goals, allocate resources, build the necessary skills and capabilities and re-set accountabilities and individual objectives.

In what ways do you need to bring your ‘high-level’ strategy down to earth so that your people can maximise your ‘ground-level’ results?

Off The Record: Trains And Boats And Planes by Bacharach and David

Trains and bloats and planes are passing by

They mean a trip to Paris or Rome

For someone else, but not for me

The trains and the boats and planes

Took you away, away from me

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks 10 July 2015 – The Art Of Imitation

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This Week’s Focus: To me, the most evocative song ever recorded is My Sweet Lord by George Harrison. It was riding high in the charts in March 1971 when I made my first visit to watch Preston North End and must have been playing over the tannoy when I entered the ground (they didn’t have sound systems in those days), because whenever I hear the song now I am immediately transported back in time to that day and can visualise the green pitch, hear and feel the crowd, smell the players’ liniment,  and even sense the taste of a Wagon Wheel biscuit and a Kia Ora orange drink!

What I didn’t realise at the time was that Harrison was starting to face copyright accusations against the song, and 10 years later would have to pay damages for the ‘unconscious’ plagiarism of He’s So Fine by The Chiffons. Harrison wrote another track, This Song, in reaction to the lawsuit.

TS Eliot once wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” To my mind Harrison was a good poet. He may have taken the riff of He’s So Fine, but in doing so elevated it into something that was clearly superior.

Eliot’s quote popped into my mind earlier this week when one of my retail clients suggested to me that his business should become better at copying others’ ideas. I think that benchmarking and some level of copying is a natural part of doing business, and is essential if you’re going to remain competitive in rapidly changing markets. Constant imitation, however, will add no value for customers and is, in the long run, unsustainable. If you’re going to copy, apply the TS Eliot test; don’t just imitate but ask yourself how you can make the idea both different and better.

Off The Record: This Song by George Harrison

This song has nothing tricky about it

This song ain’t black or white

And, as far as I know

Don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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The 7 Drivers Of New Sales Growth

Every company I work with has a sales growth target and a set of planned activities to reach the target. Far fewer, however, have a clear focus on what type of growth they are really trying to focus on. In reality, there are really only 7 key drivers of growth, as follows:

  1. Improve customer retention. Many studies have shown that it’s far more efficient and profitable to improve the retention of existing customers than it is to attract new customers to fill the hole by those who no longer buy from you (although why you need a study to prove this kind of common sense point, I’m not sure). At the top-end of the market, Singapore Airlines creates highly loyal customers through its customer service excellence. But you don’t have to offer expensive products to create loyalty. McDonalds dominates its market and retains customers by providing a mix of brand attractiveness, product quality, price and convenience that its competitors cannot match.
  2. Increase the usage rates of your products and services. A marketing star in Procter & Gamble once had the breakthrough idea of adding the words “rinse and repeat” to the instructions on their shampoo bottles, driving up usage overnight (or, at least, first thing in the morning). In a different market, Swatch turned watches from a product in which consumers had one or maybe two products, to an industry where customers have a collection to choose from.
  3. Attract and retain new customers. There are three ways in which companies can attract new customers: (i) Convert non-users. Many technology companies drive growth primarily by persuading non-users to buy their products; (ii) Find new uses and customer segments. The pharmaceutical industry has a history of re-assigning drugs for new treatments. Glaxo, for instance, first produced Zantac as a prescription-only medicine to treat peptic ulcers, but the company has also developed lower-strength products to aid the treatment of heartburn; and (iii) Take share from competitors. Enhancing the customer experience, creating communities and building stronger customer relationships can help drive loyalty and attract customers away from their current providers.
  4. Offer new products and services. There are offensive and defensive reasons for developing new products and services. Offensively, it can generate significant new revenues for your business and maintain or grow the gap between the value of your customer proposition and those of your competitors. But defensively, you have no choice. There are three valuable forms of product and service expansion: (i) Dramatically improving your current products. Gillette, for example, has created new ranges of razors that continue to keep it ahead of its competition for over a decade; (ii) Extending existing ranges. As Gillette’s razor technology improved it was able to develop a new range, Venus, designed specifically for women. Not only did this generate new revenues for the business, but improved the confidence of men across the world that their razor would be as sharp when they picked it up as it was when they last used it!; and (iii)Moving into new, adjacent markets. Starbucks, for instance, is succeeding with the development of its own instant coffee brands to use at home.
  5. Geographical expansion. The prize from geographical expansion can be huge as it allows you to replicate your existing for success. Up until its merger with Caremark, CVS, the US drug store chain, for example, had driven its growth primarily on the basis of adding new stores in new states across the USA. The company avoided international expansion as the growth provided by its domestic market has more than met shareholders’ growth expectations.
  6. Channel expansion. Channel expansion also offers major profit growth opportunities. Dell originally only sold its products directly, but you can now buy Dell PC’s in retail outlets. A key element of Apple’s recent success has been the growth of its own store chain, enabling the company to avoid sharing margins with other retailers and giving it greater control over customers’ shopping experience.
  7. Partnerships and acquisitions. Where you do not have the necessary assets or capabilities to deliver your growth ambitions, and you are unlikely to be able to develop them organically, acquisitions and alliances provide a fast-track route to growth. Studies have shown that in many industries, acquisitions can deliver 50% or more of successful companies’ profit growth. BAE Systems, the UK-based defence manufacturer, has driven significant growth through the acquisition of companies to drive greater scale and efficiency in existing markets, as well as helping it develop market-leading positions in adjacent markets.

Which of these seven steps are the right focus for your business, what steps are you taking to drive new growth within each of these areas of focus, and how confident are you that they will enable you to achieve your growth ambitions?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Supporting The Next Generation of Team GB’s Sports Stars

I’m delighted to announce that Morgan Cross Consulting has partnered with SportsAid to provide support to the next generation of Team GB’s sports stars. You can find out more about the five young athletes we are supporting here – http://www.morgancross.co.uk/about/sportsaid/ – and find out more about SportsAid here – http://www.sportsaid.org.uk


© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Needs, Wants and Jade

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This Week’s Focus: I’m reading a great book, A History Of The World In 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor, the former boss of the British Museum. One of the objects that caught my eye was a 6,000-year old jade axe, which was found near Canterbury, England. There are no domestic reserves of jade in the UK and the item had been sourced from a remote Italian location and shipped over 1,000 miles to England around 4,000 BC. It may not have had an Armani label attached, but it was obviously an object to be admired rather than used.

Over the past 6,000 years little has changed. Your customers may talk about what they want and need, but what will really set you apart from your competitors is your ability to understand and deliver what they really desire, even if they can’t articulate it themselves. That’s why providing exclusivity, great design and an amazing customer experience, rather than simply a useful and reliable product or service, is at the heart of many of the world’s most successful companies brands.

A jade axe can’t do anything more than a stone axe, but it is hugely more desirable. Where are you providing stone when you could be offering jade?

Off The Record: Accidents Will Happen by Elvis Costello

And it’s the damage that we do

And never know

It’s the words that we don’t say

That scare me so

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Stop!

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This week’s focus: I’ve been working in London this week and on Monday evening took a group to see Jose Feliciano play at the wonderful Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho. Feliciano was great – his guitar playing was superb – and he sang a mixture of his own songs and covers, including his famous version of the The Doors’ Light My Fire.

During the first number in the set, however, there was intermittent feedback on the PA system. After this happened for the third time Feliciano simply shouted, “Stop! Let’s get this thing fixed – now!” He didn’t apportion blame, or have any kind of hissy fit; he was simply clear that he had certain standards for his shows and that he wouldn’t continue without the immediate and complete resolution of the problem. From that moment on, there were no further problems and everyone in the audience enjoyed the show.

Famously, Boeing had once had quality issues at its Seattle manufacturing site, which meant that many ‘fixes’ had to be made after its planes reached the end of the production line. It was only when a new manufacturing vice-president shouted “Stop!” and halted the entire production line – costing, on paper, many $ millions – that the various teams along the line took ownership for their own quality performance, and that the quality and profitability of their planes grew.

How often are you shouting “Stop!” so that your team take full ownership and address poor quality issues?

Off The Record: Light My Fire by The Doors

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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7 Lessons From High-Growth Businesses

A few weeks ago I spoke to the leadership team of one of my retail clients about what creates a high-growth business. Here, very briefly, are the 7 lessons I shared:

  1. Willing to be first. Most successful businesses are generally the first to successfully exploit new market opportunities. Requires entrepreneurialism and prudent risk-taking.
  2. Relentless focus on where you can win. High-growth businesses don’t try to be all things to all people. They make choices and trade-offs about where they can truly succeed.
  3. Less really is more. You should not have more than a handful of priorities at any one time. It’s far better to move three things a mile than 100 things an inch. You can always come back to your other ideas later.
  4. Fixed on the vision, flexible on the journey. This is a quote from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. It’s likely that you will need to constantly change your sails to harness the power of the fickle market winds, but you can only do this if you’re clear on your destination. Expect your initiatives and tactics to change, but be relentless in pursuing your key goals and priorities.
  5. Actions speak louder than plans. Success generally goes to businesses that learn – and apply those lessons – the quickest. Don’t wait till your offer is perfect, get it out in the market and refine and adapt as you learn. Fail fast, fail cheap and win big.
  6. Persistence and Discipline. Maintain commitment to your goals. Don’t give up if you don’t first succeed. This is the critical capability that enables you to deliver #4 above.
  7. Healthy paranoia. Nothing fails like success, so relying on your past successes is a great way to die. Focus on delivering constant innovation and evolution so that you can avoid having to try last-minute revolutions.

Which of these 7 lessons should you focus on to help accelerate your next stage of growth?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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