Archive for June, 2010

In Praise of Generalists: A Guide for Recruiting

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

“We’re going to train a generalist group of leaders…I think that’s the future of leadership.” - John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems, 2010

One of the most significant yet least commented on business trends of the past decade has been the decline of generalists and the rise of specificity in postings for managerial positions.  I believe this trend is dangerous, leading to suboptimal hiring decisions.

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Tweets, Divination, and the Modern Executive:
A Stratagem for Mastering Information Overload

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Our 24/7 connectivity and its continuous assault on our intellect and senses has created information overload. Today’s leaders and solopreneurs must find coping mechanisms or drown in a sea of too-muchness. Fortunately, our ancestors had techniques that still apply.

My wife spent her childhood summers in isolated mountain villages in Lebanon, where Read the rest of this entry »

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Business and Honor: A Pledge

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

While rereading the remarkable Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute, an odd phrase popped into my mind: business with honor. Sounds kind of mafioso, doesn’t it? I tried to flick it away, another random bit of brain static, but something about it stuck. Honor and business. What’s the connection?

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Can’t Decide How to Decide? Here’s How – Part 2

Thursday, June 17th, 2010
Many leaders stumble when they need to make decisions. Some undermine team engagement by being too authoritative, thus endangering the quality of implementation. Others are so considerate to the feelings of others that decisions don’t get made at all or too slowly, or are dumbed down to the least objectionable compromise. Here we continue our series on How to Decide.

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Numbers, Business Owners, Blindspots, and Long Levers: How to Move the World

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
The first focus area for many of my small business clients is numbers. Strategy, planning, research, personal and organizational effectiveness…nothing else matters if you aren’t in control of cashflow, margins, and so on. It’s a matter of needing to survive before you can learn to thrive.
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Today’s Dumbest Business Article

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Sometimes an article is so dumb you just gotta comment. Try this from “It’s Is All About You” on “The best way to deal with competition is simple: Ignore it. The greatest leaders don’t care what the competition thinks.”

Gosh, I guess all those leaders I’ve admired weren’t great after all. Because most of my role models obsess over the competition.

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Planning and the Entrepreneur

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Last fall (Nov 9, 2009), there was a provocative posting in The New York Times titled “Why Don’t All Entrepreneurs Write Business Plans?” The author, Scott Shane, reviewed the literature and summarized some theories. Worth reading, but even more interesting to me were some of the comments:

  • “A business plan is never finished, so at what point while writing one do you actually begin? That has been my challenge.”
  • “[Entrepreneurs] feel their time is better spent working hard and putting in long hours to ensure the business succeeds.”
  • “Honestly the concept of a business plan confuses me, unless it is used in search of seed capital. If it isn’t, what good is a plan?”

Each of these comments reveals a misunderstanding of the basic process of business. Business is about managing continuous change. It never stops. That leaves you with two choices: floundering in a sea of chaos (reacting), or staying mindful of your goal and making regular course corrections (proacting).

The business plan is never finished? Well of course! Business is never finished. The plan is a snapshot at a point in time. It should be developed with full awareness that it will be obsolete the moment it’s finished. But by exercising the discipline of identifying the key issues and selecting the key strategies that will drive success based on today’s conditions, you will have a clear understanding of what needs to be adjusted when conditions change tomorrow.

Time better spent working hard to ensure success? I used to have a pet rat that worked real hard running in a wheel. It never got anywhere. I’ve found that managers who regularly get off the treadmill to take a long view of their business are the ones who succeed long term. And are happier. And get more done.

No specific purpose for the exercise? That’s missing the point. The purpose is to provide purpose. A good plan identifies goals and shows how all the pieces fit together. A good plan helps employees understand how their efforts contribute to the whole. Teams become stronger. The company ceases to be about the whims of the management and becomes about working together for a greater good.

Now, do companies frequently misuse business plans? Absolutely. They treat the plan as written in stone. Instead of becoming an enabler of nimble change, the plan becomes a straitjacket. Or they overwork it, take it down to the tiniest detail, forgetting that conditions change. They spend way too much time chiseling a masterpiece, then feel stuck with it.

I once worked for a mid-sized company that turned the business plan into religion. Months were spent building and collating vast spreadsheets, as if the sums of numbers based on assumptions about assumptions were Truth. Of course it was way too complex to revisit all those assumptions as the year unfolded, so there was a blind focus on the plan’s metrics and how to achieve them rather than what should be done to manage to actual conditions (always different from the original assumptions).

So yes, business planning, like any tool, can be misused. But I believe that virtually any organization can achieve superior results with a balanced planning process build around proper expectations.

As Stephen Covey says, to be effective you need to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first. That’s what building a business plan is about. It takes you out of reactive mode, identifies the watch-outs, sets the goals, and outlines the steps.

And one more thing: today’s plan is only a plan. Expect reality to be different. Be nimble. Keep the plan simple enough that revisiting it is simple.

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