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    Entries in strategy (33)

    Friday
    Jul272018

    Job Titles of the Future: Chief Non-alcohol Beverages Officer

    A quick dispatch for a middle of Summer Friday from the often-imitated, easily duplicated Job Titles of the Future series. For the latest offering I submit a job title I've never seen before - 'Chief Non-alcohol Beverages Officer'. For details, see this piece from Fortune:

    American beer drinkers keep shunning Bud, and Anheuser-Busch InBev is going to extreme measures to meet their changing tastes.

    The brewer announced Thursday that revenues in the U.S. had slumped by 3.1% in the second quarter as sales of its major brands—Budweiser and Bud Light—continued to drop. U.S. beer sales dropped 5% by volume.

    At the same time, it announced that it will create a new executive position—chief non-alcohol beverage officer—as a response to Millennials and “Generation Z” drinking less than their elders. Lucas Herscovici, currently global marketing VP of strategic functions, will fill the role. Nonalcoholic drinks constitute some 10% of AB InBev’s volumes, and it’s aiming to boost the proportion of low and no-alcohol sales to 20% of the total by 2025, reports theFinancial Times. But in the second quarter, the category fell a damaging 43%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    This announcement about the new C-Level job role from Anheuser-Busch InBev was interesting to me for three reasons:

    1. It shows, at least at the surface, that the organization needs to react to changes in customer attitudes, tastes, and preferences with a significant and high-level talent/people strategy response. In the past, I guess forever, Anheuser-Busch InBev didn't need to consider this market and this role. Their business was selling beer. Now their business is changing to one that is more about meeting the customer's needs/desires for refreshment - a wider, deeper, (and maybe for them in the long run), a more lucrative market.

    2. This shift in Anheuser-Busch InBev's business is another great example and reminder of the challenges that all kinds of legacy, established businesses have when trying to adapt to shifts in customer attitudes. The company knows that it needs to focus more on non-alcohol beverages moving forward, but at the same time has to try and protect and strengthen its core, legacy regular beer business. Becoming more nimble and agile to chase new markets while at the same time having to rely on declining core businesses for profits and cash flow is the classic big company challenge. I am a fan of many Anheuser-Busch InBev products, so I am hoping they navigate these challenges successfully.

    3. It's the summer, it's just about the weekend, and an article about a beer company essentially just drew me in. Hope you have a great weekend, have a cold one if that's your thing, and Cheers! 

    Monday
    Mar052018

    How your company plans to use its tax cut windfall could be a great recruiting tool - or maybe not

    A couple of weeks ago I reviewed some recent research that analyzed how American companies plan to put to use their increasingly sizable cash hoards, (much of parked overseas but expected to start being repatriated), and which are expected to also be boosted by the recent reduction in corporate income tax rates.

    The TL;DRversion of that prior piece: Most of the cash is heading back to investors, either directly in the form of increased dividends, and indirectly as a benefit from increased share repurchases.

    Over the weekend I reviewed an even more comprehensive examination of what many of America's largest organizations have stated how they plan on putting this new cash to work, courtesy of Just Capital. There analysis of almost 100 large company announcements in the last few months shows a consistent picture - the data shows that so far, US companies plan to reward or grant new benefits or opportunities to employees comparatively poorly when compared to how these companies are treating shareholders.

    Here's a quick look at the summary of the analysis from Just Capital (and they have lots of detail at their site, I recommend spending some time digging through the figures)

    Since the chart at Just Capital is interactive in nature, it was hard to get a screen cap that showed the percentage breakdown across the uses of cash categories, so I will just list them out below:

    Shareholders - 58%

    Future job creation investment - 22%

    Products - 7%

    Employees - 6%

    Customers - 4%

    Communities - 3%

    Once again, according to the data compiled by Just Capital from hundreds of corporate announcements related to worker raises and bonuses, stock buybacks, capital expenditures, executive compensation, and other measures related to corporate tax reform, only about 6% of this windfall is directly benefiting current employees.

    There are some standout companies, from an employee welfare perspective, with respect to how they are allocating these cash flows.

    Boeing for example, is allocation over $200M to programs directly benefiting workers, and another $100M towards community programs. FedEx is allocating all of their increased funds to direct employee compensation increased and investments in future job creation. Finally, Apple plans to direct 100% of their tax cut savings into the creation of 20,000 new jobs.

    On the flip side, some companies, even ones who have allocated some of the tax reform savings to employee bonuses, (and have had these, usually $1,000 bonuses reported widely), are in Just Capital's analysis granting shareholders the vast majority of the benefits from corporate tax reform.

    You can dig into the data in more detail for sure, but the takeaway I think of corporate HR/Talent leaders moving forward is understanding where (and more importantly, why?) your organization shows up on this kind of list.

    While it is awesome to be known as company that is great for the shareholders, your job in HR/Talent is to keep creating, positioning, and communicating your organization as a great place for employees.

    It might be an awkward conversation down the line if some highly sought after candidate asks you why it is that your company decided only to give employees 1 or 2% of these tax cut savings and give the rest to the shareholders.

    There may be a great answer to that question, but you will only have it if you are prepared to be asked.

    Have a great week!

    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.