5 Ways To Turn Long-Term Aims Into Rapid Results

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In difficult, turbulent times how do you keep a focus on your longer-term objectives? Many of the business leaders I work with find it relatively easy to identify and develop strategic visions for their company. For them, the difficulty comes in translating these ambitions into immediate results.

Last week, for example, I was working with an executive team to create practical strategies to deliver a challenging three-year performance goal. Despite setting the goal a year ago, economic and trading pressures meant they had failed to make any meaningful progress. As with many other businesses, they had become caught in the trap between their long-term aspirations and their need for short-term success.

So how can you make the leap from short-term tactical actions to long-term growth? Here are five practical approaches that can help:

  1. Establish medium-term themes. As part of their 1990’s turnaround the Asda executive established six areas of focus for ongoing investment: Truly different stores; Offering 5-10% better value; Stunning fresh food from craftsmen; 25% unmatchable mix; A serious clothing offer; and Sold and served with personality. These areas of focus  – called the ‘formula for growth’ – remained in place through to Asda’s purchase by Wal-Mart in 1999 and helped managers align their short-term actions with their bigger, longer-term goals
  2. Focus on your key drivers of value. Amazon’s executive team have agreed three drivers which they believe will not change in the midst of the turmoil of today’s business environment: range choice, low prices and fast delivery. By focusing on these drivers Amazon has developed innovative new services, such as the Marketplace, Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh.
  3. Take a stepping-stone approach to growth. Don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, identify one or two practical moves that will take you forward now, and then repeat with further initiatives down the line. At one retail client of mine, the executive team developed an ambitious goal of increasing market share from 25% to 33% over a five year period. The team developed many ideas to help them achieve their goal, but, importantly, didn’t seek to do everything at once. In the first year, they overhauled their product range and improved their on-line offer. Once this was done, the company developed a new loyalty offer before focusing on improving the shopping environment and experience. This stepping-stone approach not only created focus but it helped build the support of their managers and operating teams as they sought to balance involvement in the delivery of the strategy with their daily operational tasks.
  4. Keep something up your sleeve. According to Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, Abbot industries delivered short-term results and invested for longer-term growth by establishing internal targets far in excess of publicly stated performance goals. Depending on performance, management then used some of the ‘extra’ profits to fund new growth initiatives.
  5. Raise the importance of non-financial measures. Financial metrics measure past performance; non-financial KPI’s can act as an indicator of future success. For example, at Reckitt Benckiser innovation is management’s key focus for growth, and so executives pay attention to the percentage of sales from new products.

Which of these five strategies could help your business align your short term actions with your longer term ambitions and ensure that you accelerate growth?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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The Top 5 Cultural Roadblocks To Your Speed and Agility

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In recent years, I have had problems with my shoulders. Bony spurs have appeared, which impinge on some muscles, creating pain and weakness in equal measure. As the specialist kindly put it, “Stuart, it’s a sign of growing up!”

Organizational beliefs, habits, and mind-sets can ossify in a similar way to my shoulders. In any relatively mature organization, you must look for and tackle these points of inertia, cut away the bony spurs of resistance, and free up your joints so that you can continue to painlessly move with ease and speed.

But what are the environmental forces that create roadblocks to your organization’s speed and agility? Here are five of the most common and most intrusive cultural roadblocks that I have come across.

  1. Passive Resistance. The Managing Director of a retail business once charged me with developing a new store format strategy for the business. Try as I might, and despite public statements of support, I struggled to gain the support of the buying teams to create the ranges and displays for these new formats, which, unsurprisingly, failed to achieve the sales growth targets we had set. It was only over 12 months later, when the Trading EVP left the business, that he finally told me that he hadn’t really believed the strategy was the best way forward and had made sure the resources weren’t made available. Passive resistance, if unchecked, can fatally damage the delivery of any project or strategy, and, as I’ve learned to my cost, must be tackled head-on. What pockets of “passive resistance” exist in your organization, and what actions are you taking to tackle them head-on? 
  2. Fear of Failure. At one major UK company I worked with the CEO would publicly lambast his directors and managers in executive meetings for their mistakes. He was a talented manager who knew his business inside out, but his behavior put a stranglehold on the company’s energy and pace. As a result, instead of moving their initiatives forward at pace, even the most senior managers would only take the next step once the CEO had approved it. Ironically, the CEO complained that no one would make a decision and that everything in the company happened so slowly, but the root cause of the jam was the environment of fear that his own behavior had created. What behaviors are causing a fear of failure in your organization?
  3. The Planning and Analysis Reflex. While some organizations like to shoot first and ask questions later other organizations are quite different. Often driven by a fear of failure, managers analyze every decision in great detail, looking at things from various angles and making sure that they understand all the risks and potential pitfalls before pressing the “go” button. In my experience, these analytical default behaviors are most prevalent in organizations where scientists, accountants, and lawyers form a major part of the leadership team. What level of analysis is required before taking action on new ideas in your organization, and, if present, what is driving the analytical reflex?
  4. “My Agenda” Trumps “Our Agenda.” At one of my corporate clients, country managers had only implemented 50 percent of the company’s recent product innovations because they did not believe they were relevant to their local markets. They may have been right or wrong, but the lack of delivery of the corporate agenda significantly impeded the business in achieving its growth acceleration ambitions. These managers’ resistance wasn’t passive, but the creation of two different sets of priorities and agendas meant that the business failed to drive the growth its leadership desired. What steps have you taken to ensure that managers’ agendas are in line with your corporate priorities?
  5. Low Review Cadence. In cycling, cadence represents the pedaling rate of the rider. The greater the revolutions of the pedals, the higher the cadence. Cyclists look to increase their cadence in order to improve results. Pace and cadence are inextricably linked in business as well as cycling. If you are reviewing results quarterly, you will only get infrequent improvements to performance. The businesses that move the quickest are those that have the fastest and most effective review and feedback systems. What is the frequency and style of the reviews of your organization’s most important initiatives and activities?

If you can tackle these roadblocks head-on, you can rapidly increase the ability of your organization to be both first and the fastest to adapt to changes in your market.

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Move The River

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This Week’s Focus: A client of mine, Rick, began his career as a mining engineer – before he became involved in corporate M&A. In fact, one of his first jobs was mining for gold in Bolivia.

The gold was found in the fast-flowing rivers in the mountains, and most of the mining companies developed sophisticated equipment to filter the material at the bottom of the riverbed with the aim of picking up the gold. The work was costly and laborious.

Rick’s team had a different idea, however. They planted some dynamite, blew up the river and changed its course down the mountain. As a result, the team members could simply walk down the old – and now dry – riverbed, picking up the nuggets as they went along.

In strategy, disruption is mandatory. If you’re not changing your market, you’ll never be able to lead it. The simple truth is that you can’t solely focus on incremental change – sometimes you need to move the river.

Where are you being bold and using explosives to change and lead your market?

Off The Record: I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor by Arctic Monkeys

And your shoulders are frozen (cold as the night)

Oh, but you’re an explosion (you’re dynamite)

Your name isn’t Rio, but I don’t care for sand

Lighting the fuse might result in a bang, with a bang-go!

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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How Fast-Paced Leaders Build High-Speed Companies – and other recent articles…

In case you’ve missed them, I have recently had these articles published:

  • Chief ExecutiveHow Fast-Paced Leaders Build High-Speed Companiesread it here
  • The CEO Magazine7 Ways To Transform Your Organization’s Speed and Agilityread it here
  • Strategy DrivenThe End Of Long-Term Planningread it here

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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SportsAid Sponsorship 2016

I’m delighted to announce that Morgan Cross Consulting has partnered with SportsAid for a second year to provide support to three of the UK’s most promising young sports stars:

  • Eleanor Baldwin – a 16-year old swimmer;
  • Niamh Emerson – a 16-year old heptathlete; and
  • James Rose – a 13-year old skier, specializing in freestyle events.

All of these athletes are from the East Midlands of the UK, where we are also based, and have been nominated for funding support by their respective sports bodies.

You can find out more about these athletes here – http://www.morgancross.co.uk/about/sportsaid/ - and you can find out more about the tremendous work done by SportsAid here - http://www.sportsaid.org.uk

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© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Shakespeare’s Legacy

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This Week’s Focus: Tomorrow marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. In addition to being perhaps the world’s greatest ever dramatist, Shakespeare was also England’s greatest writer and linguist, coining many phrases that are still in common use today.

Whether you think a new idea is a fool’s paradise or a foregone conclusion, you owe a debt to Shakespeare. If someone is a sorry sight or as pure as the driven snow, Shakespeare got there first. And, if you wear your heart on your sleeve and are somewhat hot-blooded, you were first described by the great Bard himself

Language matters. In business it is easy to become focused on numbers, analysis and logic. But it is your use of language and the stories you tell that speaks to people’s hearts and that creates the emotional impact that really enables them to engage with your ideas and vision.

Most great leaders – from Churchill and Lincoln to Bezos and Jobs – are great storytellers, creating an emotional impact with their language.

How are you using language and stories to build engagement and commitment to your strategic vision and priorities? As Shakespeare might put it, there is method in this madness!

Off The Record: Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits

A love-struck Romeo sings a street-suss serenade

Laying everybody low with a love song that he made

Finds a street light, steps out of the shade

Says something like, “You and me babe – how about it?”

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Bremain, Brexit and Brexcellence

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This Week’s Focus: As the UK’s referendum campaign lumbers on, both sides of the argument – the Brexiteers and the Bremainers – periodically wheel out business leaders to support their side of the argument. What’s more, officials from the main business trade associations, such as the CBI and the IOD are increasingly seen on our screens offering their point of view.

The truth, however, is that for most businesses the UK’s relationship with the European Union is just one factor in a kaleidoscope of issues shaping their environment. In fact, the ongoing challenges from the pace of technological innovation, the rise of new, global competitors and rapidly changing customer demands are much more significant to most businesses than the EU question.

As ever, the successful businesses will not be those that, Canute-like, try to control their environment and build a moat around their market position, but will be those that act with focus, speed and agility to make the most of the inevitable changes in their market. It is the companies that are able to spot and exploit new growth opportunities that result from these changes that will win.

It’s not about Bremain or Brexit, it’s all about Brexcellence!

What steps have you taken to think through the new growth opportunities from either referendum result, and how well placed is your business to rapidly exploit those opportunities whatever the outcome?

Off The Record: European Female by The Stranglers

She speaks, her lips are kissing

The air around her face

I don’t always understand her

But I love her air and grace

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Speed Of Change

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This Week’s Focus: As you may know by now, my new book, First & Fast, was published this week. The book is focused on helping business leaders improve the speed and agility of their organisations.

In the ten years that I started my consulting business I’ve worked with dozens of companies of various shapes and sizes. The biggest differentiator between those that have continued to thrive and those that have struggled to survive is the speed at which they get things done.

Critically, the difference in speed is not really driven by the company’s technological capability or as a result of its financial resources. Instead, at its heart, organisational pace is a leadership issue. It is driven by the values, beliefs and behaviours of the leadership team.

What are the behaviours and values that you embody and demonstrate on a daily basis that encourage simplicity, focus and speed across your organisation? And in what specific ways will your business be faster in six months than it is today?

Off The Record: Speed Of Sound by Coldplay

How long before I get in?

Before it starts, before I begin?

How long before you decide?

Before I know what it feels like?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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New Book: First & Fast is out now

9781631574726_FCI’m delighted to announce that my new book, First & Fast, is out now in hardback and kindle. The book is focused on helping you improve the pace and agility of your organisation and speed its growth.

It’s packed with tools, case studies and ideas that can make a rapid, pragmatic difference.

As Alex Gourlay, the president and chief executive of Walgreens Inc. put it, “First & Fast will help you accelerate the growth of your business.”

First & Fast is now available for purchase or download on Amazon, both on its US site – click here – and its UK site – click here.

And, if you like what you read, please post a review and testimonial on your local Amazon site. Thanks – and enjoy the book!

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – The Book Of Success

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This Week’s Focus: Next week my new book, First & Fast, is published. This is my second book – my first, The CEO’s Strategy Handbook is still available to buy here! – and still I find it fascinating that so many people think that writing a book is akin to some kind of amazing magical act that only  people with a special talent could possibly pull off.

Let me tell you, it isn’t. Anyone can write a book. But whoever said that art was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration was absolutely correct. I’ve found the hard way that the key to writing is structure and discipline.

First, the structure: (1) Create a concept; (2) Identify 8-10 chapter titles within the concept; (3) Identify 3-4 sub-sections for each chapter. Second, the discipline: put aside two hours in your calendar three or four times a week, commit to that time and aim to write a minimum of 1,000 words (about half a sub-section) in each writing session. Simple!

Well, simple but hard. It’s the same with any important project, though, isn’t it? The key to success is to break the work down into manageable chunks and then set aside sufficient, regular time to get each of those chunks done, and drive over any lingering procrastination.

Too often, however, we fail to chunk the work down, only to feel overwhelmed by the level of work still to do, and then fail to commit the time, allowing the urgent to overwhelm the important and letting procrastination win the day.

How are you creating structure and discipline around your most important projects so that you can amaze your customers, colleagues, friends and family with the results of your work?

Off The Record: Everyday I Write The Book by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference

Between a lover and a fighter

With my pen and my electric typewriter

Even in a perfect world, where everyone was equal

I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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