Quantcast
Subscribe!

 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 

E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    Entries in strategy (31)

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Defining the competition

    There are two schools of thought on how an organization should think about its competition - for customers, market share, talent, brand awareness, etc.

    One approach is to study your competitors closely, monitor their strategies, actions and decisions, and devote a lot of resources and energy to roles like competitive intelligence gathering, market analysis, and the development of specific playbooks focused on your main competitors to prepare your salespeople for what they are likely to encounter in the field. I'd say that in enterprise tech, HR tech for sure, this is the approach that most medium-to-large providers take.

    The alternate approach is to largely ignore specific competitors and spend the vast majority of your time working on product, message, and lots of internal and specific capabilities like implementation, service, support and the like. This is often the approach startup tech companies take as they likely have to spend most of their time trying to define their own message, communicate their unique value proposition, and if they are truly innovating in the market their competition may not even actually exist. Or said differently, they often are competing against 'doing nothing' and not against a competing product or service. 

    And truly most companies probably exist somewhere in between these two extremes - thinking about the competition some, and other times taking a more internal focus. And this focus usually skews towards former as the company grows, enters new markets, or begins to attract new competitors (success breeds competition). 

    I thought about this 'competition continuum' when I caught this piece on Venture Beat - Amazon's name pops up on 10% of U.S. earnings conference calls, a nod to the retail/tech/distribution giant's outsize reach in the US economy right now.

    From the VB piece:

    Almost 700 U.S. companies have reported quarterly results so far this earnings season, and the e-commerce titan’s name has popped up on roughly one of every 10 earnings conference calls so far. And the retailers whose lunch has long been eaten by Amazon.com Inc haven’t even reported yet.

    In all, Amazon has been raised either in passing or with some urgency on 75 calls hosted by corporate chieftains in the past several weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of call transcripts from components of the S&P 1500. That’s well more than twice as many mentions as Google or its parent Alphabet Inc and over three times as many as Apple Inc.

    Everyone from traditional retailers to 'big tech' companies like Microsoft and IBM all the way to Dow Jones stalwarts like 3M and Johnson & Johnson all have at least one eye on what Amazon is doing.

    It is kind of incredible to think that Amazon is now a real (or imagined) competitive threat across such a wide range of industries and companies.

    But here's what at least I thought was the really interesting thing about the piece, and the reason for the post in the first place.

    Most organizations spend lots and lots of time, (maybe too much time), thinking about the competition. I get the feeling that truly amazing, game changing companies like Amazon don't spend all that much time doing that. No, they focus on doing the things that make others worry about them instead.

    And that is a much, much better place to be.

    Postscript - I am totally obsessed with the Amazon Echo and really annoyed at every other piece of technology I own that will not yet respond to voice commands. I think this is going to be a really big deal in workplace tech and sooner than we think.

    Tuesday
    Jul112017

    Learn a new word: The General Theory of Second Best

    There's nothing I care more about that NBA basketball, (I promise this isn't another basketball post, but I may have to dig out a basketball analogy to make the point), with the possible exception of learning new things.

    Which is why, I think, I run the 'Learn a new word' series on the blog. I am also falling into the trap of thinking 'if this is interesting to me, then it should be interesting to people who read this blog'. After 10 years of this, I am not really sure if that is even true. But I persist.

    So here's today's 'Learn a new word' entry - The General Theory of Second Best.

    What in the heck is that?

    A decent description can be found in the Economist: (emphasis mine)

    The theory of the second-best was first laid out in a 1956 paper titled, sensibly enough, "The General Theory of the Second Best", [paid access] by Richard Lipsey and Kelvin Lancaster. Roughly put, Lipsey and Lancaster pointed out that when it comes to the theoretical conditions for an optimal allocation of resources, the absence of any of the jointly necessary conditions does not imply that the next-best allocation is secured by the presence of all the other conditions. Rather, the second-best scenario may require that other of the necessary conditions for optimality also be absent—maybe even all of them. The second-best may look starkly different than the first best.

    Let's think on that for a moment and take it back (sorry) to the basketball analogy I hinted at in the open.

    The optimal allocation of resources for say a basketball team has traditionally consisted of five different kinds of players, with different body types, playing styles, and characteristics that when assembled, would provide the team with the right balance of scoring, passing, rebounding, and defensive play that would result in winning.

    But let's say that the team can't acquire or develop one of the positions, let's say the point guard - the player who usually is charged with handling the ball, setting up his/her teammates for easy scores, and functioning as the on-court leader of the team. If this example team can't find a good enough point guard, the Theory of Second Best suggests that 'answer' to the problem isn't making sure the other four positions/roles are filled as designed and slotting in any old player as the point guard.

    The theory suggests that the 'optimal' solution, when one resource (the point guard), is missing, may be to take a completely different approach to building the team. Maybe the team looks for more 'point guard' like skills in the other positions, or maybe the team implements a different style of offense entirely to mitigate the problem.

    The real point is that once conditions appear that make the 'first best' strategy impossible to execute, that you may need to think really, really differently about what will constitute the 'second best' strategy. 

    The second best may look starkly different than the first best.

    I really dig that and hope you think about it too, once your plans in business or in life run into some challenges.

    Tuesday
    Mar072017

    LEARN A NEW WORD: 'Never Events'

    You've probably heard stories over the years of some crazy, unbelievable, and even egregious mistakes made by medical professionals from time to time - things like operating on the 'wrong' body part, leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside the patient, or administering an incorrect medication or dosage that results in really, really bad outcomes. These kinds of mistakes happen, hopefully not too much, but they do, and health care providers have, over time, implemented structural and process changes to try and keep them from re-occurring.

    So while you have probably heard about these kinds of mistakes, what you may not know is that in the medical field these kind of mistakes have a definitional term. They are called 'Never events' - "Adverse events that that are serious, largely preventable, and of concern to both the public and health care providers for the purpose of public accountability".

    Naming and categorizing these events into the 'never events' bucket has helped health care providers better understand the problems, as well as devise interventions to (hopefully), prevent them from happening in the future. Said differently, once a 'never event' is detected, a different, more rigorous, and more repeatable set of protocols kick in. 

    I confess to have never, (no pun intended), heard of the term 'never events' until I read this piece from Slate that is advocating for local law enforcement agencies to adopt the 'never event' approach to solving some of their most challenging problems. And while I don't know anything about law enforcement, or health care, ( or much of anything else really), I kind of like the notion of adapting the approach that the medical field is taking towards these preventable events to other fields.

    Would having a list of 'never events' in your business processes, or perhaps stated as the list of behaviors that are so egregious that they simply will not be tolerated, be of benefit beyond literal 'life and death' professions like health care and law enforcement?

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to determine what some of the 'never events' might be in any context, if only to think about ways to create structure/environment and design processes to ensure these never events either don't happen at all, or at least can be reduced significantly. Even in an individual, personal context, this might have value.

    I will start.

    One of my 'never events' could be to have an unreturned or unacknowledged business email with 24hrs of receipt, (I know I am already in trouble).

    How might I change my structure and process to ensure this 'never event' does not occur?

    I could put on a permanent email auto-responder stating my commitment to answer within 24hrs, setting a clear expectation for myself and the email sender. I also could block times on my calendar each day to dedicate to processing email. And finally, if it gets really bad, I could hire an assistant to triage my email, respond on my behalf as needed, and only forward to me the most important emails, the ones that truly require rapid response.

    I am going to think about those things this week. I encourage you to think about your own 'never events' too - in your business, your HR department, and even personally. 

    Some things should never, ever happen. Until we recognize which ones, it is hard to stop them from happening again and again.

    Monday
    Dec052016

    Signs of the Corporate Death Spiral #4 - Competing like it's 2005

    While I was busy over the weekend watching my beloved Knicks researching some blog posts, I caught a TV spot from the wireless company Sprint, which features an actor who became pretty well known several years ago as the 'Can you hear me know?' guy from a series of spots for Sprint's arch-enemy Verizon Wireless.

    If you don't recall the once ubiquitous Verizon ads take a look at an example below, (email and RSS subscribers click through)

    These Verizon ads ran constantly back in the early aughts, as Verizon (and its competitors in the wireless market), were all feverishly building out their networks, trying to expand coverage to more places, and importantly, working hard to improve sound/voice quality for calls and reduce dropped calls. I would guess most readers are old enough to recall when every second or third cell phone conversation would be barely audible, if it wasn't cut off completely (and randomly). And back in 2004 or 2005, a cell phone (and network), that could not be counted on to reliably carry good quality voice calls was, well, pretty much worthless. Yes it's true, in 2004 you used your cell phone mostly to talk to other people. 

    So let's jump back to 2016 and think about what Sprint is trying to do with their messaging and spots starring the actor formerly known as the Verizon 'Can you hear me know?' guy? On the surface Sprint is trying to poke the bear (Verizon), with these spots, showcasing (in case we are all dumb enough not to realize this guy is an actor, and not a real customer), how Verizon's most famous advocate has now defected over to Sprint. In the Sprint spots the reason given for 'Can you hear me know's?' defection has something to do with overall network comparability and equivalency between Sprint and Verizon, coupled with Sprint's claim that its plans are less expensive than comparable Verizon plans.

    Or something like that. Who knows for sure because once the 'Can you hear me know guy?' starts talking, (and immediately reminds us that he is in fact the 'Can you hear me know?' guy), that is pretty much all I can focus on. Can you hear me know? Can you hear me know?  Blah, blah, blah and suddenly we are back in 2005. Back when dropped calls, heck when making calls was a big deal.

    Now? Not so much. A couple of years ago when my son wanted to get his first phone I was surprised by the request and asked him why he needed a cell phone because I wondered who was he planning to call?

    He replied, and he was maybe 12 at the time, that I was being silly because 'Cell phones aren't for talking to people, they are for watching videos, playing games, and getting on the internet.'

    And he was/is right. That is (mostly) what cell phones are for today. And that is why Sprint, who in 2016, running ads that like it or not, make us think about what used to be important, (dropped calls, bad call connections), is missing the entire point. What matters now is the device itself, its capabilities, the apps, the camera, etc. And oh yeah, once a day or so when we make a call we want it to go through, but who worries about that any more?

    Sprint in 2016, is still in a way, probably non-intentionally I grant, trying to compete with Verizon by harkening back to what used to matter about a decade in the past. And by that, they are missing the point completely. 

    Or they are making another point entirely. Which is, we are pretty much out of ideas. But at least we are now ready to compete with Verizon in 2005. We even got the Verizon guy from 2005 on our team. As if that matters.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Jul112016

    Is it a great company culture or just a collection of great talent?

    Lots and lots of folks like to push 'culture' as the primary driver of organizational success. I have written and presented pretty extensively on why I think that's wrong. Check any of my 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' posts in case you are interested.

    One of the many reasons I get a little skeptical about this 'cult of culture' is that by its very nature culture is hard to define, to measure, and hard to draw any kind of a direct (or even a dotted) line from culture to actual results. I'm not saying it's impossible, but just really, really, tough.

    But another reason why culture gets too much emphasis is how easy it can be to confuse a great culture with what is really just a collection of great talent. This challenge was discussed, I think very effectively, on of all things an NBA podcast I was listening to recently, by ESPN writer Kevin Arnovitz on the July 6 episode of The Lowe Post Podcast.  Lowe and Arnovitz were discussing the recent decision by NBA star Kevin Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors - a team famous for their 'culture'.

    Here's Arnovitz' observations on culture v. talent, then some comments from me after the quotes:

    On an NBA team is culture permanent? Or is it really just transient? Is it this fancy word people like us to describe what is really just a concentration of good talent, but it seems like culture? But actually what it is is just really good basketball players there? Which is why they (the Warriors) win, it's not because they have any special connection to the community of San Francisco like people like to talk about. 

    Steve here - I think these observations are spot on, especially in a business setting like an NBA team where individual talent and excellence plays such a critical role in organizational success. Said a little differently, it is almost impossible to achieve the highest level of team success in the NBA without at least one superstar player, and one or two other All-star caliber players. You simply can't win without that talent level no matter how fantastic your team's culture may be.

    And I know that I get a fair bit of heat from folks for trying to make these kinds of HR/talent points using sports analogies, as some folks think that an NBA team and its dynamics offer little to us to learn from, back here in the real world. But I continue to think that they are valid ones to make, especially as more and more organizations and work teams have to rely on ideas, innovation, creativity, and quite simply talent, in order to succeed in a hyper-fast, hyper-competitive world.

    Ask yourself some of the questions about your organization that Arnovitz hints at.

    What would really drive increased performance at your shop? More talented people? Or a somehow 'better' culture?

    Which one of those levers is easier for you to influence? To measure? To replicate?

    This isn't about me trying to convince you that culture = bad and talent = good.

    It's about making sure we keep both in mind, (along with Strategy, if we really want to get back to my Rock-Paper-Scissors take).

    When you put 4 of the best 10 or 12 best basketball players in the world on the same team you are going to win A LOT of games. If at the same time you have a great culture, you may win one two extra games.

    But the great culture without the great players? Good luck in the draft lottery next year.

    Have a great week!