Steps in the Rapid Startup Design Strategy to Create a Viable Company (655-2)

The Rapid Startup Design Strategy Overall : Go stepwise, don't dawdle, constantly always ask yourself, " Is this a dead end? &qu...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Social Responsibility in 2017 and Beyond (630-7)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was all the rage post Enron. Then we had more and disasters including the BP oil spill, banks selling toxic mortgages, sexual predator behavior by company leaders, ill-treatment of an airline customer, and defrauding bank customers by creating fake accounts. What happened?

CSR was a tag along. As It’s a Jungle in There implies, if you add the following elements to your business:
  • “be responsible” and,
  •  “give something back,” 
you are good to go. The reality was these words are and were hollow add-ons. So, for example, some movie producers gave us wonderful movies and were abusive at the same time. A company was "Beyond Petroleum", but actually did nothing to move us away from a carbon-spewing economy.

The problem is that being “responsible” wasn't built into the core company. Even Google’s “don’t be evil” is a little vague. It leaves a lot of wiggle room for “get away with whatever you can as long as no one gets hurt.” Apple’s hiding of profits offshore (and Google’s) is an excellent example of “legal” behavior. Unfortunately, that action is not supporting the country that launched Silicon Valley startups, trained staff in top universities, built communication and travel infrastructure, created the dynamic economy required to develop wondrous innovations, and (lest we forget) invented GPS and the Internet.

Honestly, in a world of “profit” vs. “responsible” which one is going to win? What will the board of directors demand? How about the investors? Or the stock owners? Or the mutual fund? Is a mutual fund guided by pension plans that are seriously underwater due to overoptimistic (or deceptive) promises of future revenue from investments going to risk a low ROI? They certainly aren’t going to trade ROI for some fuzzy “good for the world/earth/society/individual” mission. If being “responsible” isn’t baked into the core organization then like a bumper sticker that has gotten old and out of date, it will be removed. And “stakeholders” will demand that "responsible" behavior stays on the periphery of the company's agenda.

Additionally, there is the familiar “everyone else is doing it” argument. If you don’t put profit first (and second and third), then you’ll be out of business in a heartbeat. The mantra says, "Better to live on for another day then to drown in a sea of red ink." That argument, although quite useful has never been compelling and lacks ethical rigor.

The winning strategy is then to come up with slogans like “Beyond Petroleum,” greenwash your company, follow the leaders in the industry, and give some money to charity. Prove that yours is a “good” organization and it will be showered with profit.

When corporations and other organizations weren’t looking, the customer suddenly took charge. Sure some industries have successfully treated their customers poorly (e.g., airlines), but the positive feelings toward the monopoly that is Amazon are instructive. At Amazon, the “customer experience” is king. Somehow it is hellbent on providing more products, faster, with unbiased reviews, at lower prices, and with greater convenience. Where is the profit in that? How did that happen? Because Amazon actually responds to customer demand and customers are pretty demanding. Customers want all the aspects of the Amazon experience that Amazon delivers.

Even the punching bag that is the airline industry recently learned that it couldn’t drag a person off of a plane without generating a firestorm of rage from consumers. You won’t see an airline treating a customer like United did again (as long as folks have smartphones in their pocket). “Beyond Petroleum” is gone as a slogan. Wells Fargo paid for is misdeed; again that strategy isn’t likely to be followed by anyone else. Uber’s leader and a movie industry leaders have been toppled.

The alternative argument for the rise of consumer power would be to search for examples where organizations have been “irresponsible,” continued that behavior, and still remain profitable and successful. Starbucks settled with the EU. Pharma companies that tried to gouge customers backed off. Companies may stay profitable, but almost always they change their ways. What about Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon? When are they going to acknowledge the country that supported the means to acquire such enormous wealth? In the end, they too will need to explain why profit is more important than being responsible. Keep in mind that they are the most powerful companies (and valuable). When they change course, there won’t be many enterprises left that can act like being responsible is a mostly meaningless add-on to fool everyone and justify maintaining the status quo.

Perhaps customers don’t really care about clean water – tell that to folks in Michigan. Do they prefer money or healthy food? We see low-carb diets increasing and people demanding GMOs. Sales of fast food are down even though it is cheaper than “fast-fresh” restaurants. It’s hard to find high fructose corn syrup, and soda profits are decreasing. Customers are demanding more and slowly getting what they want.

The good news for corporate leaders and future organizational leaders is that customers want you to bake responsibility into your organization and will reward you for it. They have seen the perils of a “profit-first” approach, potentially first hand when they lost their house in 2009 or when yet another company told them “too bad for you, what are you going to do about it?” You can even see the change in autocratic regimes like China where folks are finally fed up with pollution. They may not have the power to attack the political system, but they can demand cleaner air.

So greenwashing your company won’t work. Now will adding flowery words to the mission statement. If you want to please customers, you need to provide clear benefit and not sacrifice it when it becomes inconvenient. In a few years, it’ll be the only way to survive in this competitive business environment.

So if you are building a new enterprise, take a chance and tell everyone that your goal is only to be profitable and provide high ROI to investors. Or take the safe route and demand that your organization considers its interaction with the environment, society, and individuals in everything it does.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Building a Successful Working Environment (630-6)

Creating a working environment seems simple. As in It’s a Jungle in There, you can distill that down to:

  • Care about your staff or co-workers.  (ch. 21)
  • Recognize and praise their accomplishments. (ch 22)
  • Help others out (ch 23).

But creating a successful organization takes much more effort and a mini-degree in psychology.

The challenge starts with how you hire people. 

What are your current criteria? Are you seeking intelligence, flexibility, compassion, perseverance, energy, enthusiasm, mental toughness, physical fitness, leadership, or adherence?

Then decide what makes a person a good fit for your organization by describing:

1) Characteristics that help someone succeed in your enterprise
  • If your Friday dress code means that staff can ditch the suit but should still be "professional," that tells you a lot about what you value.
  • If your industry is rapidly changing and challenged with new technology, then flexibility and innovativeness may be your top priority. 
2) Criteria that helped others in the past, assuming the environment hasn’t changed.

3) Personal values that predict success in the position

  1. Options include money, autonomy, work-life balance, travel, quiet, minimal interaction, constant action, desire for a big success, fear that effort will be discarded, etc.
Once the staff member is on board, it’s time to get them up to speed. Don’t just dump them onto the organization and assume they will “figure it out.” Have a plan for training and inspiration that conveys the organization's core vision, mission, philosophy, and values. If someone doesn’t seem to buy the core organizational direction, you have a problem you need to fix promptly.

Then use qualitative and quantitative to assess the accuracy of the fit. Perhaps you thought that the person having “energy” was paramount. Then you realized that the person you hired based on that criterion was always pushing for a change in a direction that conflicted with your obligations or timeline.  Perhaps the proper criterion you are looking for is “passion” for your mission and goals. That passion will translate to “energy” for staying the course to achieve success.

The fit might be great, but the organization isn’t consistent or is providing conflicting messages. The solution is organizational, not personal.

Or, despite your best efforts, the fit for this position isn’t right. Before you give up, maybe another area would demonstrate an improved fit. For example, you assumed that the person was more extroverted, but it seems that they like quiet and working one to one with people. Migrating to a position that involves coaching vs. one with the leadership of a large team may be the right solution.

Finally, there are the red flags. Occasionally some folks have a toxic side. They breed resentment; they crave control; they manipulate and intimidate. You need a system to identify such people. It is unlikely they are going to tell you that harming your organization is their goal. And other staff are likely to be intimidated and unwilling to come forward. Folks who are bullied look to supervisors to take action; that’s your (unpleasant) job. You need a system in place to ensure you collect information from other staff so you can identify the problem and take action.

To summarize, It’s a Jungle in There recommends to be kind and helpful to folks and give out praise liberally for work well done. That is a tiny piece of ensuring that you are creating a working environment where everyone is working together, doing their best, and helping the organization meet its mission.

Photo Credit: Competency-circle.jpg. Components of competency-based management. 1 October 2010 (UTC).  Paduch. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Summary of It's a Jungle in There (630-5)

Chapters 17-20 of It’s a Jungle in There were, shall I say, trite. If like me you are a slow reader and see value in "Hey, I read a chapter," you'll love this book. I've never seen a book with chapters that are 2 and 3 pages long.

So rather than write the book that should have been written, this week I will provide a digest of the ideas of the book, chapter by chapter. I'll add something to 17-20 since that is the focus of this week's blog.

I'm at a loss for an image, so I will insert a shameless plug for my book, Reaching Tomorrow's Customers: Trends in Digital Marketing. It's free via Kindle Unlimited (or if you ask me, I'll send you an EPub!)
My book on Digital Marketing.
  1. Be a risk-taker.
  2. Be passionate.
  3. Don’t fall for “Get a life” or “Take it easy.“ Be ambitious (see passion).
  4. Dream about the future.
  5. Multitask.
  6. Come up with a product, believe in it, and sell it.
  7. Be the best you can be.
  8. Pay attention to detail.
  9. Look out for the next big thing.
  10. Do R&D and learn new things.
  11. Make improvements.
  12. Make sure folks can find your product and go to the customer to make a sale.
  13. Pay attention to the budget and spend wisely, but don't cheap out.
  14. Improve efficiency through strategic partnerships.
  15. You, the entrepreneur are a product. Sell yourself. Hey, see my book image to the right!
  16. Don't quit - persevere. Clear objectives should guide you. Set a goal and clear objectives. Use them to tell you when you have arrived. A setback can be assessed against the purpose and objectives. If the impediment is that Google is doing it now, well your goal just got stomped on and its time to create another goal. If your goal was to create an app and you found out that 4 others already exist, then persevering is foolish. If your objective was to be done in two weeks, and its been 2 weeks and you are only 1/2 done, then adjust your schedule and get moving. Figure out what got in the way.
  17. Don't accept a rejection from someone; don't quit too early. Sure, hit the wall, step back and then try again. There are situations where you can ask 100 people. So a rejection from one means there are 99 other people to ask. You can ask that first person again, or you can move on. In other cases, there are only one or two people (say, you invited your state's senators to come to your launch and both rejected you). Ok, dig deep and keep trying. You only have two options.
  18. Failure is just success in disguise. The business world is full of "learn from your failures" advice. It makes sense. But learn from your successes too. Learn from other people's failures. Learn from their successes too. I'd say the broader statement is "learn." Every chance you get, see what you can learn and apply that to your next activity.
  19. Be positive. That's easier said than done. The author says "I've never had a bad day.Most of us cannot say that; self-deception is not easy. But the point is, don't get down on yourself or your situation. Take each challenge as an opportunity to see something new. But really, it's okay to have a bad day. The good news is that the sun seems to keep rising every morning. Tomorrow (if this is not the movie Groundhog Day) there will be a new day. [Aside: I admit that I watch that film every year, but I spent 10 years in Pgh, so perhaps that it].
  20. Care about people and things. I suppose the alternate strategy is "don't care." We live in a scary world that apparently has to point out these kinds of things.
  21. Make people feel good. Praise is cheap and useful.
  22. Help others out (1.5-pages long chapter!).
  23. Shape your image of yourself.
  24. Connect with the media. 
  25. Be truthful. Again, is the alternative to lie? I'm a big fan of "trust but verify."
  26. Don't burn bridges. I just watched the Great British Baking Show and one baker threw out his Baked Alaska components is disgust when the ice cream piece melted. Don't throw away things in anger. Don't keep everything either, but pause before you discard your creation.
  27. Be socially responsible.
  28. Give something back. What comes around goes around.
Next week, I'll try to come up with something interesting to say about topics 21 to 24. Wish me luck. Perhaps I could add, "Don't be sarcastic." Too late.

Reference: Schussler Steven, Karlins Marvin. It’s a Jungle in There: Inspiring Lessons, Hard-Won Insights, and Other Acts of Entrepreneurial Daring. Vol Reprint edition. New York: Sterling. February 7, 2012.