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© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Aiming For The Stars

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This week’s riff: I must admit that up until a week ago I had never heard of the Rosetta satellite, the Philae space probe or even Comet 67P. All that’s changed, however, and I am blown away by the fact that humans have been able to send a rocket on a 10 year journey of over 4 billion miles to land on a small, rotating, duck-shaped piece of rock that’s only 2 miles wide and is travelling at 40,000 miles per hour 350 million miles from earth.

In last week’s riff, I suggested that giant leaps result from a series of smaller steps. The successful landing of Philae on 67P is a great example. Scientists first started planning the project 25 years ago, and step-by-step have been able to find solutions to all the issues and problems that they will inevitably have faced.

The project may not achieve all of its objectives, but in my eyes it has already been a stunning success. And the most important step in this venture was to define and commit to the goal of landing a probe on the comet to carry out scientific tests. Only then could the team organize and deliver the project. Too many business initiatives flounder because they have unclear, fuzzy goals that, in turn, deliver weak results.

What are the clear, specific and ambitious goals that you are committing to on your own particular ‘space missions’, and what are the steps you’re taking to ensure that you successfully shoot for the stars?

Check out our new Facebook page, download our white paper Small Steps, Giant Leaps, or contact us to find out more about how we can help you achieve your most important goals.

Off The Record: Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer

And when we shoot for the stars

What a giant step

Have we got what it takes

To carry the weight of this concept?

Or pass it by like a shot in the dark

Miss the mark

With a sense of adventure

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Small Steps, Giant Leaps

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November 7, 2014

For many years I’ve suffered from a fear of heights. At various times bridges, multi-story car parks, chairlifts, even the upper tiers of football grounds, have brought on irrational fears.

So, I’ve been trying to overcome my fear by learning to climb. Earlier this week I was out in the Peak District doing my first roped climb. After a few failed attempts I neared the top of the crag. As I did so I became increasingly anxious and only reached the top after a couple of big moves so that I could get back to ‘safe ground’ in the fewest possible steps.

My tutor made me do it again. “Don’t try and get there in one leap,” he told me, “Have a look at the rock, think two or three steps ahead, and make a series of smaller moves.” He was right. The second time round was easier, less stressful and, even though I took more steps, ultimately quicker than my initial attempt.

Delivering business growth is similar. It is tempting to look for a ‘silver bullet’ solution and achieve your goal in a single giant leap, but success tends to come from a sequence of smaller steps. Even transformational innovations are often delivered through a succession of incremental moves. James Dyson famously made over 5,000 prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner before launching the product commercially and the first iPod combined technology that was already available in different forms.

Where are you trying to reach your goal through a single giant leap, when you would be better off, and ultimately quicker, by taking a series of smaller steps?

Off The Record: Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

They won’t see us waving from such great heights
“Come down now!,” they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
“Come down now!”
But we’ll stay…

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Made For Each Other

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From October 31, 2014

For a few years now, I’ve subscribed to Spotify, a music streaming service. I’ve mainly listened to it every now and then when I’ve been working in my office. A month ago, however, my listening rate went up dramatically. I bought a Sonos wireless hi-fi system of speakers for different rooms in my house, and I now listen to Spotify all over the house.

Sonos and Spotify are made for each other. Spotify gives you access to (nearly!) all the music you’d ever want to listen to, and Sonos gives you easy, immediate access to that music wherever you are at home. Spotify’s service is hugely enhanced by Sonos, and, in turn, the value of the Sonos system is dramatically increased by Spotify’s service.

What is the ideal complementary product or service to your brand, and what steps could you take to create a win-win-win for you, for thecomplementary business, and for your collective customers?

Off The Record: How ‘Bout Us by Champaign

Some people are made for each other

Some people can love one another

For life

How ’bout us?

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – The Power Of Simplicity In A Complex World

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From October 24, 2014:

Technology and globalization are combining to create a more uncertain, complex world for business. Many companies respond by creating more integrated, joined up organisations, with matrix structures, a myriad of committees and shared responsibilities. They match external complexity with internal complexity.

These approaches may look good on paper, but more often than not the result is a lack of pace, an inability to make decisions, and issues and opportunities falling through the accountability gaps. As Steve Elop complained in a memo to Nokia’s employees a few months after his appointment as CEO in 2010: “We have lacked accountability and leadership through these disruptive times. Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, the time it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation!

The most effective, agile and successful big businesses that I come across eschew this need for complexity. They have crystal clear, single-point accountabilities, an absence of committees and working parties and lean, straightforward management structures that you tend to find in much smaller companies. They understand the power of simplicity in a complex world.

How would you rate the simplicity of your organisation, and what steps could you take to make it simpler, faster and more effective?

Off The Record: The Mayor Of Simpleton by XTC

Well, I don’t know how to tell the weight of the sun

And of mathematics, well I want none

And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton

But I know one thing – and that’s I love you

When their logic grows cold and all thinking gets done

You’ll be warm in the arms of the Mayor of Simpleton

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Busines Rocks – Creative Performance Management

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From October 17, 2014:

How creative are you in managing performance, so that you actually improve results?

At one client this week, for instance, a director showed me his company’s monthly customer satisfaction report. He also told me that the data was also used in the production team’s monthly review as well as the sales team’s report. The data in the two reports were identical, but the presentation was very different.

The sales teams numbers were a sea of green, suggesting strong progress, whereas the production team’s report was covered in red, suggesting a crisis. The director explained that their sales teams like to see they are making progress. Even when the results are ‘green’ they still strive to improve the scores, if it leads to higher rewards. On the other hand, the production team, he explained, only react to problems. If their scores are ‘green’ they see the job as being done, so he makes sure that their report is covered in ‘red’.

One set of results, two very different interpretations – although both are directly aimed at improving satisfaction results. What creative steps could you take to ensure that your management reviews lead to real performance improvement?

Off The Record: Ain’t What You Do by Oliver and Young

I thought I was smart but I soon found out

That I didn’t know what life was all about

But then I learnt I must confess

That life is like a game of chess

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Are You Ahead Of The Crisis?

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From October 10 2014:

Humans seem to have an in-built belief that the status quo will continue into the future. As a result, we pay little heed to upcoming dangers and risks. In current affairs, for instance, the growth of both Ebola and ISIL are quickly escalating from a crisis to a catastrophe, and it is only when a catastrophe is imminent or upon us that we seem to act.

In business, the same patterns exist. The major UK grocers of Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s have been losing share to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl for several years, but they are only taking real, strategic action now that the share loss has turned from a steady flow to a torrent. Elsewhere, Nokia’s management decided too late that it needed to respond to new competition from Apple, Samsung and lower priced Chinese manufacturers, and saw its market share fall from over 40% to less than 5% within four years!

Andy Grove of Intel once said that only the paranoid survive. How are you maintaining a healthy level of paranoia in your business so that you are able to anticipate and respond to new market threats and opportunities faster than your competitors?

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Will You Give It A Try?

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One of the things I learned at a recent FA coaching course was not to demand that children do things. Instead, the tutor advised, ask the children if they are willing to have a go; if they will try.

In work, however, I find that managers rarely ask if their people are willing to have a go. But what if you did? Instead of setting incremental improvement targets that both you and your team know can be easily achieved, what if you set a far more difficult and stretching goal and asked them if they’d be willing to have a go; if they would try?

If you’re looking to improve on-time delivery, for instance, instead of asking for incremental improvement of 1% or 2%, what if you asked your team if they’re up to trying to achieve 100% on-time delivery and then gave them a month or two to work out how they could do that? And what if you said that you weren’t expecting that performance level to last forever, but for just a week? As with the FA’s coaching philosophy, by taking the stress of needing to succeed away, you might just find that your team is willing to do things that you hadn’t previously thought possible.

So, what do you think? Are you willing to give it a try?

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – What’s Your Customer Proposition Riff?

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Given the new look newsletter, let’s start with a riff about riffs. The BBC have just had a poll on the greatest ever guitar riffs, which was won by Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. Other top riffs included Sweet Child O’ MineBack in Black and Smoke On The Water. A great guitar riff is the hook that simultaneously keeps everything together and also drives the song along.

Brands and sub-brands are the commercial equivalent of guitar riffs. Take Amazon Prime, for instance. Signing up to Prime gives you free next-day delivery, but it also provides you with cheaper express delivery services, free access to thousands of movies and TV programmes, and the ability to ‘borrow’ books on Kindle. Amazon doesn’t need to keep repeating this list of benefits and services; it can just repeat the ‘Prime’ riff and customers immediately get it. Little wonder that Amazon is calling its new ‘parcelcopter’ services, Amazon Prime Air.

Are you just listing your products and services and giving your customers too many different pieces of music to listen to, or have you distilled your proposition into a coherent riffs that your customers instantly get?

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5 Ways To Focus On Your Most Important Priorities

Businessman jugglingMany businesses fail to focus effectively. The reason is that managers are swept along by events and have an innate desire to fix everything at once. It takes discipline, and quite a bit of courage, not to respond to every problem or opportunity that comes your way, but as Steve Jobs once said, “It’s only by saying no that you concentrate on the things that are really important.

With that in mind, here are five specific actions you can take to increase your ability to say no, to increase your focus on your most important priorities and to accelerate the future growth of your business:

  1. Reduce the number of ‘special projects’ in your business – now! In my experience most companies have at least twice as many ‘strategic projects’ as they can reasonably handle, even at normal pace. When Stuart Rose became CEO of M&S, for instance, he immediately reduced the number of ‘strategic projects’ from 31 to 10. If you want to put some more dramatic acceleration behind your true priorities, then it’s likely you’ll need to reduce the number of big initiatives by two-thirds or more. Here’s how you can do it: (1) Remove and stop any strategic projects that do not massively and directly contribute to your #1 strategic goal; (2) If you still have a long list – say, more than 5 – determine if there is any logical sequence to the remaining projects, and defer those that are dependent on the outcomes of earlier, ‘foundation’ projects; and (3) For the remaining projects, review them in detail and break them down into sub-projects. Repeat the two steps above so that your initial focus is on only those actions that will both massively deliver against your #1 strategic goal and build a platform for further initiatives in the future.
  2. Establish ‘hidden’ priorities within your priorities – but only if you have to. You may have political reasons why you don’t want to immediately kill all the strategic initiatives you are pursuing. But even in this situation you can still ensure that your focus – and relevant resource allocation decisions – favours your real priorities. At one client, I spoke with the CEO about the fact that he had 15 strategic priorities and challenged him that this was far too many for him to pursue successfully pace. “I know,” he replied, “but I’m only really interested in three of them. Having the others makes sure that all our senior managers feel responsible for a key strategic project, but I have ensured that my very best people are on my top three.” I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you don’t need to do it, but it can be a relatively effective alternative if some projects are at a critical stage and it would do more harm than good to fully halt them.
  3. Ensure that your critical priorities have the resources and capabilities they need to succeed. If you reduce the number of projects you should be better able to ensure that each remaining priority is fully and properly resourced. Financial resources are central to this proritisation, but effective resource management is not just a financial question. Critically, this includes having a project leader who has the necessary technical, organisational and leadership capabilities to drive the initiative and deliver rapid results. It also means that you and your senior team give the project the attention it deserves, ensuring that it has the best possible chance of internal support and ultimate success.
  4. Establish ‘phases’ to the delivery of your strategic agenda. Just because you have chosen not to undertake a specific project now does not mean that you will never do it. Your organisation needs to understand that you recognise all the initiatives that need to be done, even if they’re not currently in progress. An effective way to signal your intent is to establish phases to the delivery of your strategic agenda. Stuart Rose, for example, set out three phases – Refocus The Business, Drive The Business and Expand The Business – each with its own set of priorities to show the business the future direction of M&S.
  5. Ensure the performance goal and delivery milestones of your priorities are well known across the organisation. When I worked with Masco UK Window Group, one of the critical elements of our success  was that the management team agreed specific KPIs that would determine when Phase 1 was complete and when Phase 2 could begin. By sharing the strategy, the priorities and these KPIs with the wider business – through line manager discussions, set piece events and internal newsletters – the entire management team understood what was important and why. This shared understanding enabled the executive team to gain the support of the entire company to accelerate progress and drive for rapid success. In fact, Phase 1 was delivered in a little over one year, finally enabling managers who had been impatient for new product and service development, to begin to share their new solutions with customers.

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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