Archives for March 2014

3 Tests for Business Books. Or why I don’t own a Button shop.

questioning business books

Ask a few tough questions before dogmatically following any business advice.

My friend Kimberly has a very wry sense of humor, I often threaten to collect her retorts and package them into a book called “The Wisdom of Kimberly.”  Years ago, we both enjoyed and subscribed to a magazine called Victoria. Beautifully designed, with gorgeous photography and articles on gracious living it also often featured 1-3 page articles on (mostly) women entrepreneurs who ran shops or small artisan businesses. The articles were beautifully photographed, filled with close ups of the stunning details of the products, or representations of the services provided.  The businesses ranged from small letterpress printers, to event planners, jewelry designers, potters who designed garden planters, even a woman who ran an antique button store in Manhattan. Ina Garten (Food network) was featured. The magazine developed a devoted, but small, following. It published several books as off shoots, including one on women owned businesses and another devoted solely to business cards. It published from the mid 80’s until about the mid 90’s, and then folded.

About 6 years ago, Victoria revived itself. Taking note of the very loyal following, the new publishers managed to assemble much of the original staff, writers and photographers, then sent out subscriber cards to former subscribers. Kimberly and I dutifully re-subscribed. The first few issues arrived, beautiful to look at, with many of the same type stories: houses, gardens, fashion and women entrepreneurs. And I looked at all the beautiful detail and went “meh”. (Okay international readers, picture someone shrugging and just not being impressed. That’s “meh”.) I reached out, called the intrepid Kimberly and asked her why the magazine left me unimpressed. After all, I still lived in a 100 year old home, liked many of the products and fashion designers that were featured, work in my garden and try to entertain occasionally.

Kimberly summed it up in a single line. “Because we now know that the only way anyone runs an antique button store successfully is if they are married to an investment banker.” Bless you Kimberly. Right again.

Which brings me to business books. If you write a business book with your favorite theory you’ve got to find shining examples that support your theory. And you may, or may not, ignore anything else about those businesses that contradicts your theory or might indicate they might not be around for the long run. (Good old confirmation bias at work again!).  If you look hard enough you can probably find business books that celebrated the leadership of Enron, Bear Stearns and any number of now defunct businesses.

So before you decide to fully embrace a business theory or business plan, consider these three things:

1. Is it Replicable with the resources available to a person or company in your current position?

You can learn great lessons from the experiences of many different business leaders, but it is important to dig below the surface to make sure you’re seeing the whole story. Were the connections or resources available to them vastly different than yours? Don’t let it discourage you, but do factor it into estimates of your ramp up time and need for resources. Realize these sorts of details are often glossed over or even rewritten for better storytelling.

2. Were other factors more critical to the final success than the theory being promoted by the author?

“Great Customer Service” as a leading strategy for business success is the subject of several thousand business books on amazon.com. No doubt it is critical to many businesses and can be a key component in success. But were there other factors that may have propelled the featured business to prominence? Was it time to market? Position on adaption curve? Uniqueness of position for a period of time? It’s rare that a business will cop to “lousy customer service” when telling their story, but what else made that business successful in combination with “great customer service?”

3. Just how deeply did the author probe for statistically measurable indicators and answers, or is most of the information cited on the companies profiled derived from self-created press releases, motivational anecdotes or puff piece stories?

Just yesterday someone brought my attention to an article profiling  a business known for “Great Customer Service”. The author, however, had apparently never even Googled the head of the company who had led a similar previous company to a particularly public and notorious flame out. Ironically, this was published in a local paper, where a mere check of their own archives would have detailed out this info. Now perhaps this could have been a great story on lessons learned and new beginnings, but the past was not even given a nod. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of that company and in that industry would have called “BS” in ten seconds (most especially some of its creditors). But what if you were reading it and didn’t know that history?

Business books, entrepreneur profiles, even blogs like these, can often leave out key pieces of information. Read broadly, take great ideas and learn from others’ mistakes but don’t discount your own experience. Play devils advocate; have others succeeded by doing the exact opposite of what is being touted as the “key to success?” Critical thinking is key. What will YOUR path look like?

P.S. I have no idea if the owner of Tender Buttons in Manhattan is/was actually married to an investment banker, but I do salute anyone who can make an antique button store run for over 50 years. Happy Birthday Tender Buttons! and may there be many more.

 

book by Jeanne Goldie

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When it’s Time to Reframe, it’s Time to Rearrange.

can you reframe a business problem by changing your perspective?

Sometimes you need a new angle.

Sometimes the best way out of a dead end is to look up. Or back. Or down. If the project you’re working on appears to be seriously stalled, due to lack of resources, internal or external politics or even a lack of enthusiasm by the team, it may be time to reframe.

“Reframing” is the act of stepping back and changing your perspective, which then allows you to move forward. You’ve likely heard people label business problems as “opportunities.” What if you looked for the opportunities in your stuck?

  • Could the lack of resources help you create a better, less complex solution?
  • Did the resistance put up by the team reveal a deeper issue, or an ingrained habit that your solution could mimic which would help the team embrace it?

Step back from the solution or plan you made and reevaluate. Go back to review the original issue you tried to solve for and ask some reframing questions about it. If you’re trying to create a customer service solution, go ask some customers what great customer service looks like to them. Trying to cut expenses? What if you grew revenue?

What problem can you reframe today?

Still Stuck? Try this. Get your copy today

 

Are you Settling?

If you settle too often you might as well quit swinging

What’s your batting average? When was the last time you swung for the fences?

There are times when only a “duct tape” fix will do. You may not have the resources to do things exactly as you wanted or planned.  It may have to wait. But at what point do you need to insist on doing things YOUR way?

If you are ALWAYS settling, and your products or projects are becoming something you wouldn’t really want to put your name on, or can’t imagine talking about if asked to describe any career highlights in the last year or so, it’s time to do a self-inventory.

1. Are you settling to get something truly more important done?

2. Are you settling just once, or does it happen every time?

3. How important are the details you are compromising on?

I realize this might sound contradictory to the advice to consider a minimum viable project, but being an effective change manager means you try to hit a delicate balance that ultimately, moves the team forward. Holding out for perfection at all times gets you nowhere, but compromising into an endless series of “meh” results also will get you nowhere.

“Sometimes you win, Sometimes you lose, Sometimes, it rains” Bull Durham.

What’s your batting average? Are you winning? Are you losing? Bunting? When was your last home run? If you’re losing more than you’re winning, it may be time to change your approach. Or at least your batting stance.

Pick your pitch and connect. Hard. Get the free steak (but put your headphones on if you’re watching in the office! )

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

If you can’t figure out why you’re losing, maybe you need to look at your company and your place in it with fresh eyes. Get our free guide to Reading the Terrain and do a deep dive on what’s going on.

 

Can you Make it Simpler?

Kiss graphicSometimes you need a fully designed, perfectly branded, heavily tested, peer reviewed and approved solution or product. (Highly recommended if you’re a brain surgeon or drug manufacturer). But if you’re not risking lives with your solution or product, what would happen if you kept it simple?

Lean Methodology uses the concept of a “Minimum Viable Product”, primarily as a way to test market response. Have you considered trying that approach on your next proposed business project?

You should consider all the angles and implications of a change strategy. But once you have, if a simple solution will increase efficiency and revenue for 95% of your core business, and not materially damage the rest, wouldn’t it be best to put your efforts there?

Start simple.  Start today.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Subscribe today and receive Reading the Terrain, a field guide to understanding the Corporate Landscape.  It’s our free guide that will help you speed read an organization, especially before you try to change it.

5 dumb things people do when they try to change the workplace. Especially # 2

  1. Choose your actions carefully when you are the replacement for a weak leader

    Try to avoid these bad approaches!

    Constantly talk about how another company does “it” (i.e. whatever change is being made). Google may be great, Joe’s Ribs up the street may be dandy as well, but if all your points of reference as to why the company should change refers to how one other company is doing whatever you do, eventually people will tune you out, and the less polite will suggest you go work there, preferably immediately. If you are using other companies as a reference point, make sure to vary your examples and also be aware of your own company’s particular strengths. And if your reference point is a defunct company, make sure the item or behavior you’re proposing to adopt was not a key reason for the company’s demise.

  2. Place too much weight on their business unit’s corner of the world vs. its relative importance to the overall company success. It’s great to play to your strengths, its also good to streamline and perfect processes under your control. However if your area of expertise is only delivering .5% of the bottom line and all of your change plans aren’t likely to significantly change that, don’t expect the whole company to change to accommodate your plans.
  3. Insist on leading a change project because it was your idea.  Yes, it’s important to get credit for your good ideas. Unfortunately you may not have the skills and connections yet to lead the whole change. Don’t sulk if you don’t get to lead the charge. Ask for a position on the team, just don’t expect to be the chief.
  4. Expect the change plan to remain exactly as first envisioned. Tweaks, detours, roadblocks and Version’s 2.0, 5.0 and 6.0 are to be expected.
  5. Ignore the “unwritten rules” of the prevailing culture. If the team is predominantly highly competitive, slightly hyperactive people, they’re not going to sit through too many “talk through our feelings” sessions. If the team is a group of highly sensitive, keenly attuned to human behavior, social work type professionals, you won’t turn them into sales people overnight. Don’t take the company’s written values statements at face value, look at its actions, its people and its internal culture before mapping out your plan.
book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Need some more things to consider before creating your plan? Read our 10 rules of turnaround. Want to make sure you’re identifying the “unwritten rules” of your workplace? Get our free field guide to ask yourself the right questions.

Just need a whole new approach this year? Try this instead.

 

Are you Afraid of Being Seen?

hand emerging from behind red theatre curtain

“All the world is a stage.” Are you hiding behind the curtain?

The first time I posted one of my 52 Week Turnaround articles on Facebook my hand trembled the whole time. Because my personal Facebook page was connected to people I had known for years. I had visions of people stumbling across posts, complete with scathing comments. (Not to mention the endless funky spam comments — What is it with sex companies trying to hide posts with headers about hockey jerseys? ) Most especially I imagined my ex-husband, ex-boyfriends, high school friends, and college acquaintances, all doubling over in laughter as they read. And not in a good way.

A few of whom are probably shaking their heads as they read this going “Seriously? Jeanne’s afraid of nothing, except slugs, so what the hell is she talking about?” Because many of them know me as being pretty fearless. I was an AIDS activist in the early 90’s (yes, the kind that gets arrested and gets spit on by bigots at demonstrations), worked in a famously dangerous public housing authority (where shootings were common and my car was rocked the first time I drove into one of the projects), and had my life and the lives of my team threatened by a mentally unstable client on the same job. I fought the foster care system.  I’ve held people while they were dying horrible deaths from AIDS and moved drugs from the dead to the living. I’ve faced large, furious public audiences who hated the company or agency I was representing, negotiated with picketers and delivered a lot of bad news to people who weren’t too happy to hear it. I’ve been on TV and radio dozens of times, sometimes on pleasant topics but also representing companies on unpleasant subjects and in difficult situations. A running joke at a company I worked at many years ago was that “There’s only one person with any balls around here and it’s Jeanne.”

Why was this different? All of that bravery was done for someone else’s plan or cause. I delivered an employer’s message (under some pretty rocky circumstances, but still, not Jeanne’s message). I fought for friends and a child who had AIDS (Shirley MacClaine’s “Give my daughter the shot!!!” pales compared to me in a medical standoff) but I wasn’t ill. I executed someone else’s organizational change plan.

But what happens when you put YOU out there, your baby, your business, your dream? There are times when it is easier for me to fight for someone else’s cause than to fight for my own. So I worry. Here’s a sampling of this past month’s worries:

  • If I comment on the divide between men and women in technology and business will I not be able to get hired anywhere ever again, be branded an “agitator”?
  • Is my thinking too superficial? Will the smart people I went to school with be like, “Dear God, how the hell did they ever let Jeanne into college? Clearly it was a clerical error.”
  • How many frigging typos, run on sentences, and/or passive voice sentences did I leave in that article I posted at five this morning before running off to a meeting? (A lot, I guarantee it).
  • What if my book that is coming out gets really sucky reviews? Should I publish under a pseudonym?
  • Are there slugs in Belgium and what are the odds of one of them sliming its way across the podium while I’m presenting? (They didn’t, but I did consider the possibility).

Sometimes, as loud as we may appear, we are still trying to remain invisible. Suzanne Evans, a business coach who specializes in being loud, proud and outspoken talks about “Stepping into Discomfort”, taking risks and being “visible” in her book, The Way you Do Anything is the Way you Do Everything. And when Suzanne talks about being visible, she means warts and all, not a safe “First to volunteer to lead the United Way committee” or post “bland inoffensive business articles on LinkedIn” sort of way.

I particularly loved her quote, “Learn fast that taking up less space and surrounding yourself with people who want to go unnoticed, and stay under the radar won’t get you more business, better clients, or cutting edge marketing ideas. Success takes up space.”

We all know someone at work who’s primary career skill is keeping their head down, making sure to dodge into a safe hole when the lawnmower comes overhead.  And it may even work for them. But at some point, it’s a pretty hollow victory. I’ve taken my chances on being memorable. And so far, it has worked, creating new opportunities, new connections and new experiences.

So here I am.  Visible. Taking up space. Saying what I think, sharing what I know, both good and bad. And YOU need to put yourself out there as well. You didn’t get this far without learning a few things. If nothing else, I know to never follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady. And that’s something everyone needs to know.

And yes, I’m posting this on Facebook.

Of course if you would prefer to remain invisible, please feel free to post a comment on exactly how many grammatical errors I have committed in this post. You can do it anonymously, I promise.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

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Do Women Tend to Sell Services while Men Build Products?

male and female hands pulling on US dollars

Does the type of business different genders choose to start affect their ultimate profitability?

Now before you kill me, understand that I am aware of the danger of sweeping generalizations and also that many women, including those in the technology field have built some amazing products (see my article on a favorite app, Unstuck, which was built by SYPartners, which is led by Susan Schuman, a female CEO).  But when I attend various entrepreneur groups, or watch pitches for venture capital, it seems that women tend far and away to build service-led businesses, often heavily dependent on the principal’s time, background and continued future involvement. Whereas the men tend to build products, ideas or applications that can be sold and don’t require the continuous input of the founder over time.

Now to be fair, I have been spending a great deal of time at technology-based pitches of late, so this is strictly anecdotal evidence, and it’s well known that technology is a male dominated field at the moment. But considering that a product based business might be more easily sold down the line, are women shortchanging themselves by creating service-based businesses?

An example, at a recent series of pitches, a male-led team pitched the creation of an app that would allow you to order your favorite drink the minute you entered a crowded club, and have it served to you wherever you were, without having to engage the bartender personally. A female-led group pitched a service creating copy for websites and technology offerings. Regardless of your feelings on instant lager delivery vs. great copy editing, one product was basically a “one and done” item while the other would require quite a bit of ongoing effort to have value in the marketplace that would allow the founder to sell.

I’m not sure if this is the crux of the question on the relative divide on male and female success in the current business climate but it gives me pause. What are your thoughts? What do you see in the marketplace?

P.S. Some great reading on Building a Business to Sell by John Warrilow.

© Jeanne Goldie 2015