Category Archives: business vitality

10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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The Inept Organization: Weak Leadership as the Culprit

by James D. Roumeliotis

Embarrasing Moment Photo - Pants down

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How often do you come across a company, either as a consumer or at a business relationship level, and realize how frustrating it is to deal with?

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is here that procedural decisions are shaped and executed. An entity’s leadership is expected to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth.
Moreover, there is a constant search for the “right” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

We notice that in certain types of B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted by “disservice” during their business exchange. Shortsightedness might lend itself to make this underhanded approach appear “profitable” on paper. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are not conceived with trust or respect.

Success Breeds Success

Companies that foster the right attitudes and strategies put the firm on track for success. Examining their corporate histories, you can witness a trajectory of growth. They have a tendency to dominate their markets and “win” through competent talent, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset within the leadership at the executive level. These choices underscore the prosperity and rapid growth of the institution. An examination of Google or Facebook shows this quite nicely. They are not built like “traditional” corporations nor do they act like them.

Organizational leadership is accountable for creating value for customers, employees and its owners/investors. When Bill Gates conceived Microsoft, he put the firm on track for providing constituent audiences with what nobody else could provide. Understanding “asset” management in an expanded meaning of the term guaranteed that Microsoft would succeed under Gates stewardship.

The opposite is equally true. When top executives lack knowledge or experience for board positions, they should not be promoted to these leadership roles. Some family owned firms run afoul here and this brings up the issues of sustainability and corporate governance. Another weakness in running an organization, in my view, is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. For example, with large organizations, competence is not the primary value but rather connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

No business can continue to prosper unless it attracts fresh and eager talent. Despite the dilemmas within the financial world, top organizations consistently lure new talent with lucrative compensation packages. It is easier for a firm such as Goldman to tap the “best” because of its reputation, size and success than a small local financial player.
When Goldman recruits they know where to look, whether it is Harvard or the London Business School. Prospects will already contain the seeds of the corporate culture in their past. Given the “right” conditions, new talent blossoms. Qualifications are never enough. They are a starting point reinforced by attitude and values. The selection and screening process is designed by HR to weed out inappropriate candidates.

Take the case of Michael Page, the global recruitment firm. Ever wonder when you pass one of their buildings on a Friday evening why the staff at the pub all seem to resemble one another, whether men or women? They were intentionally selected to match a model.

To give another example, Microsoft’s interview process includes quizzing candidates with challenging technical questions. This practice not only assesses problem-solving and knowledge ability, but also explores the ability to perform under pressure, which is a key skill required to succeed in Microsoft’s intense work environment.

One thing is firmly certain ─ the best-managed companies have “one” factor in common:
They are constant achievers in their respective industries. These companies exude managerial excellence. Financial performance is the result of this style of management. Consider companies such as Boeing and Under Armour, among others, which thrive and considered as “America’s Best Managed Companies” by Forbes magazine.

Deeds Not Slogans

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first year or two, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6/10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges daily to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:
• Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
• No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
• Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
• Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
• No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
• Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
• Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
• Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
• Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
• No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
• A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
• Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
• Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
• Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
• High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
• Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
• No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
• The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
• Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
• Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
• Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
• Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
• Lack or very little employee training & development.
• Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
• Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

Top executives need to be accountable to the ownership or Board of Directors – whichever applies, or at least to an outside arm’s length and neutral party such as an adviser who can also play “devil’s advocate” when necessary.

Good Organizations Matter

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. For its clients to receive stellar service, the firm must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Seth Godin, a renowned marketing strategist, stated succinctly: “If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring. When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine) then the caring can’t help but happen.”

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. A company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

In a nutshell: Well-run companies thrive no matter what by hiring the right people, taking good care of them, listening to customers and never ceasing to innovate and improve.

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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Effective Leadership: How to Optimize the Decision Making Process

by James D. Roumeliotis

Maze and Businessman

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Face it! Like it or not you are defined by the decisions you make. Think of successful organizations and the people responsible for guiding their authority and well-being. Often, high performance is the result of an executive choosing the right move at the right time. It’s not purely a lucky streak. Corporate strategy is not “Black Jack” nor 5-card stud poker.

Decision-making is a complex activity and at times a long process. Your ability to identify and excel in your decision-making tasks will greatly increase the chances that the choices you make will have a strong and positive impact on your organization. Why take any additional risks when you know instinctively that this is the case to sound growth and prosperity?

Where to begin in contemplation

Your first step is to understand the external and internal factors that affect decision-making, from aspects of the organizational environment to your personal decision-making preferences. While you aren’t always able to control these influences, recognizing and identifying these factors will enable you to take them into consideration as you strive to achieve the best decision outcome.

Reality check

Every day you make sense of what goes on around you by interpreting what you see and hear, taking into account your past experiences, values, needs, attitudes, and goals. Even your understanding of what another person says is only an estimate, as you can never completely share the viewpoint of someone else concerning the world.

Given the increasing complexity of organizational life, along with the quantity of information that must be processed, it is no wonder executives too often experience stress as they strive to balance agendas and please many of their people.

It can happen that you put a lot of time and effort into a decision study or a formal analysis, only to be disappointed in the results. When this happens, you need to re-evaluate both the information that went into the analysis including your expectations.

On the one hand, no process is any better than the information that goes into it and when you get a result that your experience suggests may be flawed or biased, this is a strong indication to probe.

On the other hand, it’s extremely tempting to tinker with the data until you receive a result that you’re happier with ─ but this is a form of deception that can lead to an adverse outcome. In this case, it helps to remind yourself to maintain a high standard of accuracy and objectivity and to seek a reality check from someone whose judgment you respect and who’s not personally involved in the decision.

The decisions you make are only as good as the process you use to make them. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to assess whether or not you are on the right track:

  1. Have I done adequate research and gathered all of the appropriate information for the subject matter at hand?
  2. Have I considered all of the stakeholders and their probable responses to various decision outcomes?
  3. Have I been honest in assessing my own decision making style and taken that into account?
  4. Have I recognized and acknowledged my personal agendas and bias?
  5. Have I considered the various options available to me in selecting the most appropriate decision making method?
  6. Have I solicited the advice and assistance that was required?
  7. Am I prepared to be accountable for the consequences of the decisions I make?

You have the responsibility for making decisions that deeply affect your employees’ performance, morale and your organization’s future. You cannot afford to rely on personal preferences or hunches alone.

Now that you are familiar with some practical, yet highly effective approaches offered here, your challenge is to develop a positive future possible through the decisions that you make today.

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Bottom line

Your decisions are only as good as the information you use to make them. The cliché “Garbage in, garbage out” applies here. Your ability to recognize bias and evaluate the reliability and validity of the information you gather can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of your decisions.

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Shady and Dysfunctional Enterprises: Deceit, Greed and Short-sightedness in the Name of Profit and Market Share

By James D. Roumeliotis

Dysfunctional Company Hierarchy

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Businesses of all sizes normally develop various pain points. A seasoned entrepreneur has actually made a list of 100. In the end, pain is a motivator for action to turn things around. However, the key is in how to tackle each one and in a timely manner. Better yet, how many of them are ever anticipated — and as a consequence solutions readily available? What is not anticipated are repercussions from poor decisions made or deceit deliberately caused with or without knowledge from company authorities. As a result, denial sets in from the top with accountability being dismissed.

Needless to say, chaos reigns within organizations which for many results in bleak outcomes. Within, there is a lack of communication, trust, transparency and loyalty. Not a sincere and astute way to operate a business.

By all appearances, there are plenty of executives who are simply results driven at the expense of their customers, employees as well as with their vendor relationships. Remarkably, most of those companies are publicly traded.

Corporations lack trust from consumers

A survey conducted by JUST Capital’s of more than 40,000 U.S. participants and groups indicates that the nation’s largest corporations are “going in the wrong direction.”

Overall, only 41 percent of all Americans trust corporations “somewhat” or “a great deal,” while 50 percent of more conservative Americans trust corporations.

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Source: http://justcapital.com/research

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, as well as their shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regards to nutritional benefits and nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks are causes for frustration, suspicion and loathing.

Sectors notorious for constant price gouging coupled with despicable service include, but not limited to, a select number of pharmaceutical brands, banking/financial services, cellphone service providers, cable companies and airlines. Too add salt to injury, in the U.S. and Canada, pointless aggressive lobbying efforts by various industries yield their influence by means of generous contributions to political parties. They are also infamous for spending a ludicrous amount of money producing sly ads and propaganda which go against consumer wishes. Consider the soda lobbyists who, according to a NY Times article, “made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” Sadly for consumers and the city of Philadelphia, the tactics worked. Similar outcomes occurred in New York City and San Francisco. In the end, the soda industry’s rubbish of an astonishingly high calibre, comes as it does from the same producers of fatty chips to the pre-diabetic, semi-literate masses. Ornate language and ostentatious preening cannot mask the shameful practice of marketing for the kind pre-fabricated, chemically-calibrated food products that are making its mainstream market obese, thus unhealthy.

In certain types of large scale B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted to forego ethics in favor of making the deal. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are either uncovered by authorities, as well as not conceived with trust or respect.

Then there are the occasional devious companies that will do what it takes in the name of revenue and profit ─ disregarding authorities, customers and everyone who takes their trust for granted. Volkswagen’s blatant rigging of emissions tests with over 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally, 482,000 of which are VW and Audi brand cars in the U.S., is an ideal case in point. As a result of its mischievousness, the company known for its hard core corporate culture caused a great deal of damage to the environment. Their supposed clean diesel models have been spewing up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution. The recall is one example of a deliberate act gone terribly awry for a brand which wholeheartedly masterminded it with self-admission. Rather than sacking the CEO Martin Winterkorn, under whose watch this scandal occurred, and depriving him of his golden parachute, the supervisory board allowed the septuagenarian, Mr. Winterkom, to conveniently step down and take home a lucrative compensation package.

<For suggestions on how VW’s new leadership should tackle their mess, contact this author for his pragmatic and practical approach.>

Corporate governance or lack thereof

The term “Best practices” is not merely words but deeds. What is required is an efficient implementation of strategies, quality controls and delivering more than lip-service. Evidently, it is not easy, otherwise, many more businesses would be performing admirably.

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is where procedural decisions are shaped and executed. One would think and expect an entity’s leadership to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth. Conversely, there is a constant search for the “ideal” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

In the end, leadership ought to foresee and prevent any potential scandals, apply checks in balances, inspect what is expected, keep corporate structure layers to a minimum, and keep communication channels open.

Customers first, employees second — investors third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Chinese Internet-based businesses, made a public statement which may have surprised the investment community. He publicly stated that, “Our customers come first, our employees second, and our shareholders third.”  The highly regarded membership-only warehouse club COSTCO performs actions consistent with one’s claims as they too follow Jack Ma’s mantra. The impressive financial results year after year speak volumes as they retain the best intentions of their employees and customers.

It took Amazon quite long to finally earn a profit since its inception. Founder Jeff Bezos and his senior executive team dug in their heels despite outcries from many of their shareholders for continuously making large capital investments with no profits in sight. For a while, plenty of cash was spent for IT related infrastructure including Cloud computing and everything related to giving the company an edge over the competition. Customer service and the customer experience have been priority no. 1. In the end, shareholders who lingered learned that patience with their investment in Amazon is a virtue in the long run.

The attitude of the individuals in the boardroom had better be that if investors are impatient and eager for quick monetary results, they can take their money and invest it elsewhere.

Advice for start-ups: ‘Steady as she goes’

A well-oiled operation should consistently head steadily on its current course regardless of any obstacles that get in its way.

Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that nearly six out of 10 businesses shut down within the first four years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

Wish list of best practices should include but not limited to:

  • avoid potential scandals;
  • apply checks in balances in place;
  • inspect what is expected;
  • trust but verify;
  • retain corporate structure layers to a minimum, and
  • keep communication channels open.

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get — methodical, sustained growth with patience and lack of greed.

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Filed under Business, business management, Business success, business vitality, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship success, inept leadership, leadership, management, starting a business success

Business Vitality: Preventing Adversities Before They Occur

by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman with telescope

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“Panic” and “chaos” are not what one should undergo in business. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are caught off guard more often than necessary when operating their business. In his book “The E-Myth Revisited”, dynamic author Michael Gerber states that a business person ought to work “on” his/her business, rather than “in” his/her business.

Start-ups have a leg-up if they launch and persevere on the “right track.” The appropriate definition of these two words together imply following a proper course of action. The analogy which can be applied to a business well-being is our own personal state of formidable health comprising of a healthy diet, frequent exercise and undergoing an annual physical. The objective is to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Remaining diligent and active as opposed to reactive

Entrepreneurs may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as prohibitive, thus solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Moreover, when drafting a business plan as the road-map, include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) matrix and “what if” scenarios — which will reveal and prepare one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, as well as coping with various challenges which can arise. In addition, consider plotting a business model as a prelude to the business plan. It makes you think through your business plan, which in turn communicates the business model. Both should synchronize. Make certain a short term (less than 12 months), medium term (13-30 month), as well as a long-term plan (30-60 month) have been conceived.

Savvy business people – whether new or seasoned entrepreneurs or CEOs of large corporations possess:

  • Insight and foresight;
  • Strategies and execution competence;
  • Alternative plans with an exit strategy in case situations turn awry;
  • The perception to take “calculated” risks rather than dive into the abyss;
  • Openness to third party advice;
  • Focus and consistency to achieve their goals and objectives;
  • The ability to see opportunity before their competition does and act upon it in a timely manner.

Negligence with current enterprises

Growing pains in any organization require a formidable administration to keep the business operating efficiently which includes customer front & center, profitability and more than adequate cash flow. Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo.
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/under-capitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to swiftly confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. It must also have preventive systems in place in anticipation of issues which may arise.

For its clients to receive stellar service, the enterprise must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. Thus, a company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Superman Businessman

Operational prevention: Implementation of systems and risk management

To preventing operational problems before they even occur requires anticipating them through operational intelligence. The purpose of risk management is to identify potential problems before they occur. To do so entails early and in-depth risk analysis through the collaboration and involvement of all parties involved in running the business. It’s where brainstorming occurs about potential problems regarding the product(s), service(s), market(s) etc. to search for and foresee issues, as well as create solutions in advance – eluding the element of surprise at some point in time. Risk management is comprised of: 1) Identifying, outlining and analyzing potential risks; 2) A course of action in handling the identified risks, as well as the implementation of risk control/elimination plans when/where necessary.

Business leadership should contemplate allowing constant flexibility to adjust strategy when necessary if the initial one isn’t effective.

There should be continuous checks and balances – especially with regards to internal financial controls through various procedures implemented to reduce errors or possible embezzlement by staff. Trust but verify ought to be the organization’s mantra and actual implementation.

Perhaps you can consider a risk analysis software such as a SAS platform whose practical use offers best practices to help the company establish a risk-aware culture through various enterprise risk models and forecasting. We note examples of aircraft pilots who diligently prepare prior to a flight – or ship captains making their plans prior to voyages at sea.

When all is said and done – avoiding pitfalls

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first or second year, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

To be a successful and sustaining entrepreneur requires vision, strategy, execution and constant diligence – along with plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

Well-run companies thrive no matter what and learn from their mistakes – making certain they don’t repeat them. However, never give failures a second thought. There are no dress rehearsals in business either.

Onwards and upwards!

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