Business Rocks: Re-Thinking Year 1

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This week’s focus: Many of the business plans I see forecast tremendous success in the second and third years of the plan, but project limited improvement in Year 1. There are many reasons for this: the need to invest, the need to learn, the need to develop.

These reasons may be rational and logical, but there is another fundamental – although generally unstated – reason: the fear of failing to achieve the performance goal. Future years are forecasts and so can be adjusted before becoming ‘real’, but managers know that the Year 1 goal will quickly become a real target and will most likely be used as a stick to beat them with rather than an inspirational goal.

The truth is that Years 2 and 3 of business plans rarely work out as planned and the temptation in 12 months time will be to repeat the conservative Year 1 forecast.

But what if you thought about the plan differently? What if you aimed to deliver 50%, rather than 5%, of the benefits of your new strategy in the first year? What would you do differently, how would you organize differently and how would you invest differently?

And, equally importantly, how could you inspire, incentivize and support your team to aim for the higher-level goal rather than a ‘safer’, incremental target?

Off The Record: Forever Young by Bob Dylan

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

And may you stay

Forever young

This is a wonderful, inspirational Dylan song – which sits alongside Simple Twist Of Fate as one of my favorite Dylan tracks – that has been covered by Joan Baez, among others, but I recently heard Deacon Blue do a great version on BBC radio – see here.

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – You Can’t Spray And Sprint

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This week’s focus: In the next few weeks I will finish my second book, which is tentatively called First and Fast and is due to be published early in 2016. The book focuses on how business leaders can step-change the speed and agility of their organizations and as part of my research I met Richard Baker, the former CEO of Boots the Chemists. In our conversation Richard emphasized the critical importance of focus in driving both pace and growth. As he put it, “You can’t spray and sprint!

Avoiding the temptation not to try and do too much at any one time is one of the hardest challenges facing most senior executives. There are so many new opportunities and ideas in the digital age and, in many organisations, so many issues to resolve, that it often feels like you need to do everything at once. That feeling is wrong! If you try do everything now you run the very real risk of not delivering anything at all. As initiatives compete for resource, attention and support, they simply hit into each other, slowing and impeding progress.

Start-up business leaders know that they must focus on a handful of priorities, as do those facing severe turnaround issues. Yesterday, for instance, the CEO of Morrisons set out just six priorities for the struggling retailer. It is the relatively established and successful businesses where the problem lies.

What steps are you taking to identify and pursue just a handful of priorities to accelerate pace and growth?

Off The Record: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman

You got a fast car

I want a ticket to anywhere

Maybe we can make a deal

Maybe together we can get somewhere

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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New Article on Engage Customer Magazine Website

You can now read my new article, Great Processes vs Great Experiences, on the Engage Customer website – click here

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Business Rocks – The Death Of Annual Plans

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This week’s focus: The US army has a saying that plans rarely survive contact with the enemy. Mike Tyson put it even better when he said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face!

In spite of all this common sense evidence, annual business planning is still as alive and thriving today as it has been for the past few decades. I think it’s time for a change of attitude and change of approach. In fast-changing, uncertain markets quarterly plans make much more sense. Trying to plan activities up to 15-18 months ahead of when they might happen seems perverse in most twenty-first century markets.

When a new CEO or leader is brought into a business they often create a 90-day or 100-day plan. Why? Because three months is a long enough period of time to make real progress on a few issues and is short enough to demand focus and discipline to make it happen. It allows you to hit the ground running.

Why change this approach after 100 days? Why not build on the momentum to create a never-ending series of quarterly plans that reflect your changing circumstances and priorities, and move your organisation forward with both  pace and agility?

Off The Record: Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

Before you cross the street

Take my hand

Life is just what happens to you

While your busy making other plans

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Deadline Day

In the football world, today is ‘Deadline Day’. In England, clubs have until 6pm this evening to either buy new players or sell players they no longer want. If they fail to do the business they want, they will have to wait until a new, one-month transfer window opens up again in the middle of the season in January.

It’s amazing how much business is done close to the deadline. And what is true for football transfers is equally true for business activity. Most acquisitions of new businesses, for instance, end up as an all-night session with bankers and lawyers on the final date possible. From one perspective the focus of all this activity at the last possible minute feels like a colossal waste of energy and time, but in my view it is inevitable. After intense negotiations buyers and sellers finally have to reveal their hand if they want to do business.

Deadlines work equally well in the delivery of your key projects and initiatives, but you have to ensure that your deadline is a ‘hard stop’ with consequences if you want people to meet it. That means setting up a review point and having ways of rewarding progress and dealing with a lack of action.

How are you establishing your own “deadline days” for your key initiatives?

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – 27 August 2015

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This week’s focus: Earlier this week I listened to a radio interview with Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of the advertising and marketing services giant, WPP. During the interview he was asked about the impact of the Chinese economic slump on major international corporations. Sir Martin replied that we should expect a period of tepid global growth and so managers must manage costs effectively if their businesses are to succeed in the months and years ahead.

While these actions are important, I don’t see them as being the real differences between future ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. The key to winning in a low-growth economy is to be able to build and exploit a series of distinctive and lasting competitive advantages, such as brands, intellectual property, other assets and distinctive organisational capabilities. A rising tide may float all boats, but only the most seaworthy vessels will excel in more demanding tidal conditions. Similarly, it is only those brands and organisations that have a superior offer and/or business model that will prosper in more challenging economic times.

What compelling competitive advantages does your business possess, and what actions are you taking to build and exploit them so that you continue to thrive and grow whatever the economic weather?

Off The Record: China Girl by David Bowie

My little China girl
You shouldn’t mess with me
I’ll ruin everything you are
You know
I’ll give you television
I’ll give you eyes of blue
I’ll give you a man who wants to rule the world

© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.

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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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