Business Rocks: Better Tomorrow

OK, I admit it – I’m a procrastinator! Even with this newsletter I usually wait until an hour before it needs to go out before I write it. That’s what’s happened this morning. It is the deadline that gives me the energy and motivation to get things done.

I’m also beginning to think that there is also a condition called ‘corporate procrastination’, where an entire organisation or team of people wait until the last minute before taking action. It’s uncanny how many times I’ve witnessed actions on key projects only taking place during the last few days ahead of an executive review of progress. It is the looming reality of accountability that drives action.

So, what’s the problem? Well, in most businesses the executive team may only review progress of even their most important strategic priorities, at best, on a monthly basis, with many teams undertaking quarterly reviews. It’s difficult to make consistent, rapid progress on projects when you’re only being held to account four times a year.

A faster review cycle is needed at all levels in organisations to encourage and drive greater pace and quicker progress. At Amazon, for instance, the executive team meet weekly to discuss, review and re-focus their most important initiatives.

What is the review cadence that you set in your business for your key priorities? And what improvement in performance could you achieve by increasing it?

As for me, I’m going to stop procrastinating – starting next Monday!


Off The Record: Put It Off Until Tomorrow by Dolly Parton

Oh stay, stay just one more day

Loneliness isn’t far away

Put it off until tomorrow

You’ve hurt me enough today


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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The 5 Principles of Organisational Speed

I’ve been reflecting on the fundamentals of organisational speed and distilling the key lessons for businesses to work on. As a result, I’ve pulled together these five principles of pace that could accelerate your growth and success:

  1. Be fixed on the vision, but flexible on the journey.

    This is a Jeff Bezos quote and describes the philosophy he has applied to drive Amazon’s amazing success. The key lesson is that to drive pace and growth, you need a clear strategic ambition but that you should expect to flex and shift resources and activities in response to changing markets and circumstances.

  2. Have everyone focused on the same big goal.

    I worked with Topps Tiles, the UK tile retailer, helping the executive team to craft a strategy that included a goal of growing market share from 25% to 33%. Having done that, the team cascaded the goal across the organisation – agreeing local market goals with store managers – so that everyone was focused on the same goal. The result was that Topps achieved their highly-ambitious goal within four years.

  3. Move three things a mile, not 100 things an inch.

    This is a lesson I received from business coach, Alan Weiss. Focus is a key enabler of pace. That’s why Steve Jobs spent so much time at Apple stopping ideas and initiatives so that everyone could focus on driving the speed and effectiveness of the most productive and important.

  4. Think big, start small, learn fast.

    When you’re developing something new, it’s highly unlikely that your first prototype will work. Famously, for instance, James Dyson developed over 5,000 versions of his bag-less vacuum cleaner before creating the one that first went to market. The key to success is not to avoid failure, but to maximise the speed at which you learn from it, apply those lessons and develop something even better. That is the fundamental route to organisational speed and innovation pace.

  5. Remember, you are the sprinter-in-chief.

    If you’re a leader of your business, your teams are looking at you and your behaviours. They will not hear any of your calls for greater pace if you are not demonstrating, through your daily actions, your own willingness to get things done quickly. For example, are you making rather than deferring decisions? Are you going the extra mile to complete a project? And are you focused on accelerating your organisation’s most important priorities? These are the subconscious tests your people will be making before committing to similar behaviours.


Which of these five principles could you and your business work on to drive speed and accelerate growth?


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.


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Business Rocks: Fixed On The Vision, Flexible On The Journey

In my spare time, I am the assistant coach (aka Head of Cones) of my son’s Under-13 football team, Grantham Town. Louis’s side play to a reasonably high standard, including some games against professional academies.

Earlier this week the boys played Sheffield Wednesday Under-13s (spoiler alert: they lost!). During the game, Nick, the lead coach, worked with Louis and the boys to implement four different formations in an attempt to find a winning formula (For the purists among you, the systems used were 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, 4-5-1 and a flat 4-3-3!). For their part, Sheffield Wednesday implemented three different playing systems during the game.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, once said that his business was “fixed on the vision, but flexible on the journey.” In other words, like both the Grantham and Wednesday coaches and teams, he is willing to constantly evolve and adapt his plans and tactics in a bid for strategic success. The buzzword for this skill is ‘organisational agility’.

The problem for many companies is that the plan becomes the goal, and managers become fixed on delivering specific actions rather than specific results and outcomes. Agility, learning and evolution are overtaken and subsumed by fixed thinking and approaches.

If 12-year old boys can learn and apply three or four different football formations over the course of a game, your teams can also learn to be more flexible and agile in their pursuit of strategic success.

How are you leading your teams to be ‘fixed on the vision, but flexible on the journey’?


Off The Record: Right Next Time by Gerry Rafferty

You need direction, yeah, you need a name

When you’re standing at the crossroads every highway looks the same

After a while you get to recognise the signs

So if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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Service Without A Smile?


We’ve just returned from an enjoyable family holiday on the Algarve. Staying at the Penina Hotel near Alvor, I had a week of golf with my wife and three sons. I’ve played less than a dozen rounds over the past 10-15 years, so I was a little apprehensive about how I would fare alongside my three teenage boys who embraced the game last summer.

I needn’t have worried. While my golf performance will not set any records, it was acceptable. More importantly, I really enjoyed playing alongside my family in idyllic weather on a beautifully manicured course.

In fact, there was only one problem with our holiday. The hotel staff didn’t smile. They were efficient and helpful, but simply looked glum most of the time, as if they were going through the motions.

Having done a couple of quick searches on Google, there is plenty of research out there to suggest that smiling not only improves the happiness and emotional state of the person who smiles (even if it is from a ‘forced’ smile), but also lifts the mood, emotional wellbeing and even the spend of their customers.

Even online and telephone-based businesses that are famous for their customer service – such as Zappos, First Direct Bank and – focus on the critical importance of having happy, friendly and smiling front-line staff. As one service manager commented, “Customers can hear your smile!”

I’d go so far to say that there is no service without a smile. And, unfortunately, that is where the Hotel Penina fell short.

What steps are you taking to create an environment where your front-line service and sales teams bring their smile to work?


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Poolside Development Checklist

It’s that time of year again. The schools are on their break for summer and many of you will already be enjoying a two-week break from work. With that in mind, your summer holidays are a great time to reflect on where you are now and what you should aim to achieve in the months ahead.

So, whether you’re going to be lying by a pool, camping in a tent or simply having a few days at home, ask yourself these questions?

Personal Effectiveness

  • What demonstrable improvements in your capabilities have you achieved since last summer, and where are you treading water or going backwards?
  • Where could you best use your strengths to help your organisation achieve one of its key objectives?
  • What lower priority activities can you either stop doing or significantly reduce your time investment, in order to improve your overall productivity and effectiveness?

Team Effectiveness

  • How clear are your team’s goals and priorities, and does everyone know what success looks like?
  • Are all the members of your team playing to their strengths, with clear and stretching individual objectives?
  • How would you rate your team’s overall effectiveness and what barriers to better performance does it face?

Organisational and Strategic Effectiveness

  • How clear and compelling is your organisation’s strategy and priorities?
  • How well engaged with the strategy are teams from across the organisation?
  • What opportunities exist for better ongoing collaboration and more effective delivery of your operations and initiatives across departments?

Customer Impact Effectiveness

  • What can you do to spend more time with your customers (internal and external), observing how they use your products or services and identifying new needs and opportunities?
  • How can you and your team get more feedback from your customers to improve the value you deliver?
  • What can you, your team and your organisation do to create stronger relationships with your customers, increasing their loyalty and their likelihood to recommend you to others?

Oh, and most importantly, I wish you all a great summer break!


Off The Record: Peaches by The Stranglers


Well, there goes another one just lying down on the sand dunes

I’d better go take a swim and see if I can cool down a little bit

‘Cause you and me, woman 

We got a lotta things on our minds (you know what I mean)

Walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches!


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.


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Business Rocks: The Importance of Being Different

Today’s Riff: The Importance of Being Different


It’s sad, if unsurprising, that Poundworld, the discount retailer, has been forced to close all its 335 stores, resulting in 5,000 job losses.

Over the past 10 years, the UK discount retail market has exploded. Led by Poundland, its growth attracted a wealth of new competitors including B&M BargainsHome Bargains99p Stores and Poundworld, as well as the grocers Aldi and Lidl.

A rising tide floats all boats. But as the market matured and the tide slightly turned, many of these players have found it much harder to grow and remain profitable. Poundworld has been a victim of this reality. The key reason for its demise has been its lack of any clear competitive advantages.

Without any real advantages, you will fail to grow profitably even in the most attractive markets. Vodafone, for instance, lost £ millions in the huge and fast-growing Chinese market, while Tesco lost over $1.5 billion when its Fresh & Easy brand failed to connect with high-spending US shoppers.

Like Poundworld, these players were unable to develop any material competitive advantages. As a result, they failed. What about your business? Are you clear on your advantages and how they can be developed to drive profitable growth? Or, like Poundworld’s management team, are you simply looking for your market to deliver the growth and returns you’re after?


Off The Record: I’m Not Like Everybody Else by The Kinks

And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else

And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else

And I don’t want to stay fine like everybody else

‘Cause I’m not like everybody else


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Making A Bad Decision Better

Bad news for Brits. It seems that people are willing to spend more time in a queue if they’ve already been standing around for a while in the line – even if there are other better options available.

New research by US scientists has shown that humans, as well as rats, will follow through on bad decisions rather than change their approach. The desire to cling onto the hope that the effort already spent will not be wasted clouds our ability to make the right choice.

You can see this phenomenon in action in business, not just in queues. Nokia’s decline and fall, for instance, was driven in part by management’s continued focus and investment in its clunky and underperforming Symbian smartphone software when other, far better options were available. Similarly, Kodak’s demise can be linked to its continued investment in chemical film processing and its unwillingness to change its business model to the new digital reality.

What about your business? Where are you doubling down on bad decisions when, deep down, you know you should be ignoring the investment already made and making a new decision?


Off The Record: Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen


Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack

I went out for a ride, and I never went back

Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing

I took a wrong turn and I just kept going


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.


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Business Rocks: The Life and Death of Relationships

This week’s riff: An international research project has found that having the same family GP cuts the risk of early death by up to 50%. The study suggests that a strong relationship with your family doctor means that you are more open to sharing your issues and concerns and also more likely to follow their advice.

Although the outcomes are not quite so stark, the same principles apply to business. Hierarchy, on its own, only leads to compliance, not commitment. It’s the strength of your web of relationships with other managers, teams and stakeholders that really determines the success of your big projects.

All projects run into issues and problems. Where the relationships are weak, barriers can quickly halt the initiative dead in its tracks. Stronger relationships, however, allow you to work through the issues together, helping you to keep the project on course and accelerating its success.

How much time and effort are you putting into building strong, effective relationships with your colleagues and peers across your business? You may find that, as with patients’ relationships with their GP, it can be a matter of life and death for your most important initiatives.


Off The Record: Doctor My Eyes by Jackson Browne

Doctor, my eyes

Tell me what is wrong

Was I unwise

To leave them open for so long?


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Failure Calling?

This week’s focus: Since I launched my consulting business in 2016, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest and best businesses in across the globe. Ten years ago, for instance, I worked with the UK arm of Avon Cosmetics, helping the leadership team to develop a strategy for growth.

I would like to say that the work we did together step-changed the performance of the business, but over the past decade Avon has struggled to compete in a rapidly-changing beauty and retail world. As a result, the company has, over the past five years, lost 90% of its market value, and its share price has collapsed by over 50% in the past year alone.

When I worked with the UK team, one thing was sacrosanct: all the sales had to be delivered through the Avon representatives. This was the most sacred of sacred cows. The entire organisation was built around serving and supporting Avon’s thousands of representatives and management were fearful of doing anything that interfered with that relationship.

The reality, however, was that shopping habits were already changing. The rise of on-line shopping, with next-day delivery, was usurping the slower, more mechanical Avon process. What’s more, finding new representatives was becoming harder, as more women were working full-time and so had less interest in working for Avon as well.

These trends have accelerated over the past decade and while the business has changed to some of these realities, it’s been a case of too little, too late. I have a saying that goes, ‘nothing fails like success’, and Avon is a classic example of a successful business model that is pursued well past its sell-by date.

The conclusion to Avon’s story is that there can be no sacred cows in modern businesses. You must question everything and be as honest and objective as possible when facing into your biggest issues and opportunities. What are the sacred cows for your business, and which of them should you be questioning and potentially killing to help you thrive and grow?

Off The Record: Nothing Lasts Forever by Echo and the Bunnymen

And I want more than I can get

Just trying to, trying to, trying to


Nothing ever lasts forever


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – The Power of Simplicity

This week’s riff: Technology, globalisation and socio-political shifts are combining to create a more uncertain, complex world for businesses. 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, lean and straightforward management structures and the collective discipline to deliver on their promises to each other; characteristics 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 2018. All rights reserved.

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