Landing a big client is both exciting and daunting, especially for a young company. It can be a defining moment, pushing the company into the credibility zone, where other clients will follow because of that first big one. It can also be a point where all of the organization’s resources are sucked into the servicing of that big client’s needs and nothing else can get done. There is both high reward and high risk here.
Every business needs to perform certain functions on an ongoing basis. Structure needs to be created and operationalized. Reporting and accountability need to be standardized. Marketing, business development and sales need to be ongoing. If everyone is spending all of their time on the big fish, then what?
And in a worst case scenario, what if the big fish walks? The company is in a deep hole. It’s a terrible time to have to focus on non-income producing activities that have been pushed into the background for a while.
If you land a big one, don’t stop- keep fishing. Then if the big fish gets away you can still survive. Somebody on the team should always be asking the question, “What if we lose Mr Big?” And everyone should be responding by focusing part of the time on keeping that loss from being fatal. Can you survive the loss of your big client?
The recent headlines regarding the National Football League’s handling of domestic abuse issues certainly create a visceral response in just about everybody. Emotion is front and center, whether in support of the victims or the players. After the emotion is set aside, we are faced with a variety of issues and nuanced arguments.
Many of these issues are consistent with those faced by business owners of all sizes every day. They include core values and the behaviors that support them; decision making and critical thinking; leadership and communication; protection of the brand and aligning brand with corporate culture; and juggling multiple agendas. They also include considering the needs of all stakeholders, both internal and external.
In an ideal business world, vision, mission, values, culture, brand, strategy and tactics are all aligned. All employees know what the company wants to achieve and they know how to go about doing it. They know there are consequences for actions, and they expect all to beheld accountable for their behaviors. There are few gray areas. Obviously, that is not the case in the NFL.
From watching and reading of all that has been going on, it appears that:
Everyone has rights. The victims have the rights afforded them by the law. The accused have rights. And the teams (i.e. the company) have rights. How can they all be jived? Where does fundamental fairness to all reside?
Under the law, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. But companies should be guided by more than just the law. There should be company policy that reflects the core values of the organization. If someone is accused of something that is felonious, how should the organization behave? It needs to show its stakeholders, both internal and external, its values and beliefs. The first action should be by the team and it should be based on company policy. That action should be clear and it should be quick.
In the case of football, the league also has disciplinary and regulatory power. The league should have its own code of conduct which comes into play as well. It may not always be exactly consistent with that of each team. Perhaps it should be stronger. And the commissioner should be vocal and should be a leader, stepping up and stating unequivocally what the decision is. Commissioner Goodell’s statement was unsatisfactory because, while he admitted making a mistake, he provided no information that could really be used to ascertain how the league had actually behaved.
All of the apologies seemed to be based on the fact that the press presented evidence of poor handling by the teams and the league. They were sorry they got caught, not sorry they had acted poorly. Nobody behaved well.
Organizations need to examine their core values and determine exactly what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. They need to consider how employees accused of crimes will be handled. And they need to consider the impact on other employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and the public. They must think about their culture and their brand and how their decisions impact the perception of both.
Issues such as this are complex ones for organizations, especially if they try to juggle the rights of all of the parties. They are made easier if there are strong policies based on clear core values. Zero tolerance policies carry teeth. And tough consequences.
Business owners need to stand up and show courage and integrity. It is part of being a great leader. It is part of setting a tone inside an organization. It is part of creating and building a powerful external brand.
“A brand is built action by action, just as a house is built brick by brick.” ~Jarod Kintz~
A brand in it’s simplest definition is a promise to it’s customers. Today, an estimated five to ten percent of a larger company’s budget is spent on developing a powerful and positive brand. For smaller companies that percentage may be different. Regardless of how little or how many actual allocated or resources or how much one is committed to evaluating and refining their customer promise decides whether the dollars, time and energy are actually invested or wasted.
Consider these industries:
In these scenarios, note where the industry or company focused.
In the late 1800’s, railroad was king spanning a nation and connecting the East and West. Whether it was hubris, shortsightedness, or just plain stupidity, the railroad barons’ brand was build more trains and lay more track. When in reality, their business was transportation. All the railroads suffered and have never really recovered. Wasting marketing and brand resources left with a broken brand.
As king of the photo and film industry and at it’s peak, Kodak held 90% of the market. As an actual leader in the digital age, Kodak made a decision to hold back on this revolutionary technology and hold to it’s exiting brand, believing the “product” was what people were interested in purchasing. In reality, and to quote Dan Avi, author of the article, Kodak Failed by Asking the Wrong Marketing Question published in Forbes, 2012. Kodak “focused on selling more product, instead of the business that it was in, story telling.” In 2013, the headline in USA Today read, “Can Kodak Reinvent Itself After Bankruptcy? Only time will tell if they can re-build their brand.
Disney remains one of the greatest leaders in the entertainment industry. Continually striving to stay true to Walt Disney promise to “speak not to children, but to the child within each of us“ has proven to be a powerful strategy. The focus and promise remains solidly on”storytelling, magic, and experience.” Today, even though Disney remains number one in price, they are still considered number one in value. They continually work on building their brand.
An Opportunity for 720thinking:
Most of the marketing resources are wasted on selling and telling people about what the products or services are and how they can be used. A powerful brand builds a strong emotional connection, and at the same time entices the consumer to want, almost need to experience. There is not a sale. Instead, customers are lined up willing to spend top dollar because the value is not to fill the customer’s wants and needs, but to delight the them.
As 720thinkers, we would like to offer the following questions that can help you evaluate whether you are making or breaking your brand:
Virtually everything on earth can be improved upon. We all wish we had better weather, better government, better schools, a better economy, and in many cases a better life in general. Business owners that are honest with themselves also wish for things to be better. They certainly wish for better market conditions, better sales, better employees, better customers. But wishing for things to be better is different than believing that conditions need to be fixed.
For something to need to be fixed seems to assume that something is broken. In the “old days”, we were in much more of a “fix it” mindset. Appliance repairmen used to fix toasters, mixers, radios and televisions. It was very more economical to get something fixed than to throw it away and buy a new one. The idea of “fix it” was much more central to our collective mindset. Not any longer. Those repairmen no longer exist. More items are considered expendables. We buy a new one rather than fix an old one. “Fix it” is no longer such a big part of who we are.
There are few in business who view their businesses as needing fixing in any way. Maybe this is because they don’t want to believe their organizations are broken. They are fine- they just need a tweak here and a tweak there. Tweaks are okay- they are not major and we can get to them when we get to them – or not. This is the alternative universe business leaders create to avoid having to do the hard work of fixing. A tweak is minor but a fix is major. And if I need a fix, I have to admit something is broken, and I don’t want to do that.
Few leaders are perfect in every situation- very few. Few have the skills, competencies or even patience to do everything well. Yet they are unwilling to move from tweak to fix. At one time or another everyone needs a fix.
If a sales manager is not up to the job- is not motivating the sales force, holding them accountable, pushing them to achieve success with the best customers or clients- is it a tweak or a fix? What would meeting expectations mean to the company? To the owner? If production managers are not pushing to get the best work out of their workers, is changing things around to get their best a tweak or a fix? If the whole company seems slightly disengaged is getting those folks to a higher level of engagement a tweak or a fix?
Any business, even a small one, is more complicated than it appears. All have processes and procedures, internal relationships that get things done, the passing and sharing of information, collaboration, strategy and tactics that lead to sustainability. It is unrealistic for any business owner to just assume that everything is humming along smoothly. There is a great opening scene in David Lynch’s movie Blue Velvet. The camera pans around a beautiful green backyard, showing what looks like a sunny summer day, a scene of tranquility and happiness. Then the camera begins to focus more tightly on the grass, individual blades of grass, then the dirt, bugs and worms crawling around those blades. The scene goes from one of calm perfection to one of turmoil and dark things beneath the surface. A different lens and a different angle give a totally different view of things.
Many things need fixing. A tweak will not do. A tweak may not even address the true underlying problem. Leaders need to address situations with the intent to fix. A team that is not functioning the way it should is hurting the company. The fix may be changing the team members, re-thinking the goals for the team, or dumping a strategy and building a new one. A process that is inefficient and has obvious gaps, holes or obstacles needs to be overhauled. If not enough new ideas are being generated in accompany a big fix may be required in the company culture.
Admitting the need for a fix is not and should not be embarrassing. It can be a major positive turning point. It can move a business off of a mediocrity track and onto an excellence track. And it can move a leader up a notch on the road to achieving leadership strength.
Everyone needs a fix at some time. Leaders need to take that need seriously. There is more below the surface than can be seen through a single lens. Leaders need to dig around, go below the surface and see what is really going on. When that is done and it is discovered that what appeared to require a tweak needs more than that, don’t stop. Think aggressive treatment or surgery not band aid. It will be worth it, and the results will prove it.
Business requires a lot of juggling- juggling thoughts, time, people, resources, ideas, dollars… All this juggling can make anyone crazy. In business, the owner, the executive, the solopreneur are generally the individuals with the most balls in the air. In fact, the very reason certain people are in charge is because they don’t just survive, they thrive on chaos and complexity.
How do they do it? How do they not only maintain control but move forward?
People get so wrapped up in the blur and excitement of being in overdrive that they can never gain clarity. Decision making becomes a nightmare and yet they continue to add to the pandemonium, putting more balls in the air, instead of truly focusing on the business at hand.
Leaders need to develop an understanding of what it means to to lead and to manage at the same time. Leadership generates strategy and planning which can be messy and mind-blowing. Management involves tactics, attention to detail and task-lists which are exacting and sometimes mind-numbing. They involve two separate mindsets, two different sets of skills. Those in the position of having responsibilities for both are juggling two different roles, needing to be successful at both. Keeping in mind, people are effective and things (machines, dollars, etc) are efficient.
In a recent interview, I asked a middle manager how well they believed their international, Fortune 1000 company shared their vision and plan. His response, “I’m not sure what the vision is any more. One minute it’s customer service, the next it’s profitability, the next it’s whatever flavor of the day, not the week, crops up.”
I next asked him what his company’s tagline was. “I couldn’t really tell you that either. I used to know it, but I don’t talk to marketing much. My vice president is busy maneuvering to be sure we have the resources we need. He’s a great guy but, honestly, that’s why I never wanted to move up. I can’t be that political, I just want to do a great job, provide a great service, hit my financial targets and unfortunately, that leaves me little time to help my company grow.”
Quite a sad testimonial, wouldn’t you say? It is simpler to focus on one aspect or the other. But it is almost impossible to create a situation where that luxury exists. There are business owners who seek to just lead, who delegate all managing to others. A few may succeed at this. But most lose touch with the business, its culture, and ultimately wake up to a business they don’t recognize or to a dire situation.
Please note this picture. It’s is so much clearer. Only two balls to juggle.
When the executive, owner, boss focuses on leadership and guides, coaches, facilitates and mentors; as well as manages and controls tangible things life will become much more positive and business would be much more successful.
As 720thinkers, we are continually striving to gain fresh ideas and insights to provide the best plans, strategies, tools and tactics possible to help people lead and manage at extraordinary levels. We support:
We would like to hear from you regarding your thoughts on how to master this juggling act – to lead and to manage.