3 Great Reasons why what worked for you Before isn’t working Now (Pt. 2)

 

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it stopped? Here’s three reasons why it may have stopped working.

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

(Go Here if you missed Reason #1, “The ground under your feet changed”)

Reason# 2.  You mistook a one-hit wonder for permanent success.

Pet Rock? Business theory flavor of the month? You had a great run but suddenly its not working,  and now you’re stuck.  Hopefully if you intentionally produced a gimmicky app, product or snack food you knew it was going to be short lived and planned accordingly. But sometimes, you and your product are the beneficiary of lucky circumstances, timing or a specific moment in the market, which can create a false sense of a more permanent success.

Think of a musical group that has their song picked for the soundtrack of a hit movie. The song skyrockets to the top of the charts. Now it’s time for a follow up. Maybe it’s a winner, maybe they were the beneficiary of a moment in time. There will be a big difference in their future between living on the residuals of one mega hit vs owning the Rolling Stones catalog.

Notice I didn’t say that the musical group was any more or less talented or hardworking than any other musical group. Hard work and talent count but there are a lot of hard working and talented people out there and they’re not all giant successes.

In the business world, the markers of what made a particular set of circumstances unique often aren’t known until hindsight kicks in.  Years ago I worked in the non-profit arena where many large grants and funds were available due to a specific set of circumstances in the market (bank mergers coupled with mirroring a favored business theory of the then current government administration). The trend continued for nearly 5 years. If you began or started a non-profit in that space during that time, it was easy to raise funds and gain support, giving you a sense of success and a feeling that you “knew how things worked.” Except that was a moment in time, not replicated at any point for the next 11 years.

Were you attached to a popular business theory that “ran its course?” In the past few years we’ve had “The Secret”,”Get Rich Quick” schemes,  and a host of other short term mega hits. If your work is closely attached to a theory that is now discredited or fallen out of favor, even if your work is sound, you will need to repackage it and rebuild success based on a new foundation.

You may have even been the cute new “upstart” in a business sector, and now you’re the “middle-aged” stalled out player, not venerable enough to be one of the “big boys” you ran circles around when you started, and not youthful enough to be as nimble as new market entrants. Many of the “dot-com” wonders of the early 2000’s are facing this dilemma now. Your growth rate no longer thrills Wall Street, because it’s hard to match the early years of phenomenal growth, and the “new market” players may have more immediate upside potential. And the old boys either went under or figured out how to address the threat you made to their market share all those years ago. You’re in the middle, and need to regroup.

Our next article: Reason #3 “You’re wearing the wrong clothes”

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

(Need to see your business with fresh eyes? Sign up for our free newsletter and get your copy of Reading the Terrain immediately)

3 Great Reasons why what Worked for you Before isn’t Working Now. (pt. 1)

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it suddenly stopped?
Here’s three possible reasons why.  

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

Reason# 1. The ground beneath you has changed.

Think of little girls in school. Most are rewarded for being quiet, polite, raising their hands, doing their work conscientiously and neatly. This gets them A’s not only in school work but those goofy awards like “Best Friend” “Teacher’s Helper” and, later in life, “Girl most likely to be doing her boyfriend’s homework while he’s off doing whatever cool thing he does that makes her want to date him.” Boys in school are not expected to be as quiet, or as well behaved, and while it might get them a “C” in deportment or behavior (or the more modern version, endless red cards), it doesn’t generally hold him back.

Now move these kids to a different playing field. What happens when these two get into the business world? One has the forward focus of doing what he wants or needs to do to get what he wants. One is a worker bee. Which is more likely to be CEO?

Shift that to a business model. During the recent turbulent times you kept your business super conservative. This helped you survive very rough seas and may have even gotten you some public praise. To be conservative you cut inventory to a minimum, watched receivables like a hawk, cut expenses, minimized staffing and got them to multitask like no one’s business. You “won” the recession. But slowly, maybe without you noticing, things change. As the economy slowly improves, your inventory looks tired, minimal. Your team, exhausted, starts getting other offers. Things start to break down, because you didn’t replace them, or they’re out of date and you’re now doing more creative things to work around the outdated system every day. New competitors (maybe even sinking severance pay into a new business) suddenly appear, shinier, newer, with newer systems, fresh inventory, a fresh perspective. Many will go out of business shortly because they don’t know what you know, but at the same time, they will take their hits on your market share. Some may even survive. Your old staff may work for them, coaching them on the areas they don’t know a lot about. The ground changed beneath your feet, and you are still fighting the war using the tools that worked before.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Time to reassess. We’ll give you some tools at the end of this series. (If you want to start seeing your business with fresh eyes today, sign up for our free booklet “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing to our newsletter today.)

Our Next Article: Reason #2: One hit wonders…

Is your “Confirmation Bias” Backing you into a Corner?

are your confirmation biases blinding you?

Confirmation Bias + Misplaced focus = Epic Failure

Confirmation Bias is a common phenomenon where humans view large quantities of evidence and choose to give greater weight (or even all the weight) to those items that support their theories. Think of it as a recipe for disaster:

Confirmation bias + Excess focus on the areas we know best (regardless of their importance)Epic Failures a.k.a. Projects that consume a ton of energy and yield little in the way of results.

In her recent book, “The Upside of Down” Megan McArdle gives two great examples of “confirmation bias”, one dealing with the “Truthers” who claim the 9/11 bombings were a secret government project and the other example an examination of how different groups view the reasons for the recent financial crisis, each “team” selecting the evidence that support their theory and rejecting other bits of evidence.

Lately it has become easier and easier for all of us to ignore or reject information that runs contrary to our internal views. Depending on your politics you can select a news channel that will then present the news in a slant that will endlessly confirm your world view. Any dissenting opinions will be cut off, minimized or mocked.  The speed at which an internet based news society disseminates information also allows for a minimum of in-depth journalism, much less fact checking.

Unfortunately we do that inside of the business world as well. Labels such as “negative,” “nit-picky” or “impractical” can be accurate, but they can also be used to ignore dissent, or worse yet, critical red flags. As a business leader, if you’re committed to doing great things, you need to be open to listening to your critics. There may be a nugget of gold in there.

Years ago I worked at a dot com. After working there for several months, I was told we’d be launching free websites for real estate agents, then charging for them at some distant later point. Having come from an accounting background I asked some questions about the timing of the future revenues vs. the cost of extending the free sites for an indefinite time. I remember being told very clearly (and somewhat condescendingly,) that I “didn’t understand the model.” I went home that evening, questioning myself, my brain, even my ability to function in a changing world. I ran the numbers, researched other similar models, and calculated the rough costs of the tens of thousands of dollars I knew that the company was spending each day. (Our “burn rate” was to the tune of about 500K per week). I decided I was simply “not getting it” clearly a dinosaur unprepared for the new world of the internet based business model. I was 33 years old and a dinosaur.

I was wrong. I understood the model. The company, however, did not. They shut down 8 months later, having been unable to convert the “business model” into a sustainable business fast enough. The investors were unwilling to provide any more funds as well. They apparently didn’t understand the “business model” either.

As you create your plan, your vision, listen to the dissenters. Ask questions, probe for why. Punch holes in your own plan. Play devil’s advocate and picture a model that operates on entirely different assumptions than the model you chose. Why is your model more valid? Where are your confirmation biases? When you’ve uncovered them, and examined the dissenting evidence and factored it into the model, that’s when you’re ready to begin!

Need some more ideas on how to make sure your project is ready to go? Start here.

Worried about your blind spots? Read this.

Afraid you aren’t seeing the bubble you live in? Try this.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

A great way to see all the moving parts in an organization is to review the lists of questions found in our free field guide. It’s free, simply sign up for our weekly newsletter (and no we won’t spam you or drive you nuts with crazy emails. We sent our a digest one time a week of relevant articles. That’s it.) There’s a box either at the right or just below this for you to sign up. And you’ll get your free guide right away.

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.

The Problems you Have Left

Some greatness from Seth Godin. The truth is, the easy problems are easily solved. If you’re reading this blog it’s because you like to solve the tough ones!

Takes 1 minute to read but says a mouthful!

The Problems you Have Left

 

 

Is this it? The Mid-level Manager’s Lament

 

getting out of business trap

Feeling boxed in? You can fix that.

I was talking last week with someone I met via an article I posted on LinkedIn. I liked him immediately. Why? He took a risk, contacting a total stranger to have a conversation about connections and change.  We talked for 30 minutes about how people get stuck mid-career, and why change projects can be instrumental in turning that “stuckness” around, either within the organization you work for or outside of it.

It’s easy to feel trapped mid-career. You’re good at what you do. You have a decent title. A good team, or maybe they’re only an okay team, but they don’t make you crazy. You make pretty good money. And you have kids, parents, spouses and others dependent on you staying that course and keeping that money coming in.  The “golden handcuff” syndrome.

You may try to move up through the ranks, but we all know the funnel narrows towards the top. The promotions don’t come as fast as they do when you’re good, and you’re younger.  And maybe when that opening at the top comes up, you don’t fit the management “flavor of the month” that year. They’re moving towards a more numeric based environment and your brand is the “people” guy. Or vice versa. Or maybe you’re not in the central core business, but you do a great job that lets everyone else get their stuff done. You’re the greatest at it, but they just don’t know what to do with you next because there’s not an obvious career path in the organization. And if they move you, your replacement may not be as easy to work with. So you clock in another year.

Problem is, your resume starts to look pretty stagnant after a while. But the kids need college tuition or your mother-in-law moves in because early Alzheimer’s disease is setting in. And the cuffs tighten. And if the company blew up tomorrow, where would you go?

You need to be an aspirin or a vitamin, not a cog in the machine.

That’s why I love projects. Projects help other see you in a new light, and expose you to new opportunities. I started working on the types of change management projects we talk about at www.52weekturnaround.com early in my career, using them as a way to meet people and learn new career skills that have allowed me to work in many wildly different fields. Lots of times I “made up” the project and assigned it to myself, just to get something started. Now people hand me projects and say, “Can you fix this?”

To create real change, for yourself or for your company, you have to stick your neck out of your comfort zone. That doesn’t mean doing something wild, or illegal. It means strategically looking at where you are and where you might like to go. What skills do you want to learn? What area is growing in your industry? What other industries use similar skills that you already possess, and what would you need to learn about their world in order to switch industries? What is the one problem in your company that is making everyone crazy? Do you have an idea how to fix it? Who can you have a conversation with that might feel a bit uncomfortable but would help you stretch? Pick a strategic action, one that will solve a real problem or create real change. Avoid busywork.

Crazy things that have happened for me when I went out of my comfort zone strategically

  1. Got the head of a 14,000 person business line as a mentor. By purchasing a United Way benefit ticket. For $75.
  2. Wound up becoming a regular guest personality on a local television station for five years.
  3. Helped open an African American Research Library in Atlanta (if you’re wondering why this is unusual, go take another look at my photo, and couple it with the fact that I grew up in New York).
  4. Moved out of a government job in a public housing authority into the technology sector.
  5. Had an article published in a famous law journal, (I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV).
  6. Am presenting in Brussels (despite speaking no French and no Dutch) on Lean Startups. Want to come? Read about it here. My topic is Anarchy vs. The ACCO clip: Lean Startups in Government Agencies.

But here’s the thing. The wacky stuff doesn’t happen unless you’re prepared AND putting yourself out there. You have to be willing to go outside the box and share what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean pestering every senior person you meet with “Hi, I want to change jobs, will you mentor me and by the way, know of any job openings or how I can get out of this dead end gig?”  It means having something new and interesting to talk about, that makes you memorable, and allows you to engage with people outside your usual circle. What’s your elevator speech? Has it changed in the last 5 years? In each of the examples above, there’s a bit more to the story. I had been doing my homework, growing myself and working hard at it, that put me in front of the right person at the right time.

Want to start creating some change? Take a look at our resolutions for 2014. Talk to someone in another department at work that you NEVER interact with and find out what challenges they’re dealing with.  Take a look at the elephant in the room and see if you’re the person that can solve it for your company. Look at how other industries, similar to yours, have solved the same type of problems your industry is dealing with. Can you have a conversation with a stranger to find out how they did it and why it worked?

Come to Brussels and hear me speak (along with my co-presenter Carl Danneels who will give a great presentation on Lean Startups in the Corporate world). And share with me some of the wacky things that have happened when you stretched out of your comfort zone, so I can share them with our readers and they can get the courage to stretch.

It’s free

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

If you need help seeing your current organization with fresh eyes, get a copy of our free booklet, “Reading the Terrain” by filling out your contact info in the box on the right. “Reading the Terrain” is a field guide that asks you tons of questions about what’s going on in your business right now. By answering them, you’ll see where you can add value and where there are pain points.

We send out a newsletter of our most recent articles once a week and will only contact you if something really special comes up. And no, we won’t share your info with anyone.

 

Five Reasons Your Project isn’t Getting any Love

 

turning a deaf ear

You’ve gotten the sign off all the way up the executive ladder. Why is no one listening??

You’ve gotten the green light. The executive committee signed off. Everyone held hands, blessed the plan and said “Go Forth and create this change!” So why the heck isn’t anyone listening to anything you say?

They’re paid to resist.

Is their job function tied to the original structure? Would their skills or value as an employee be in jeopardy if your change plan works? If so, don’t expect them to be the first to jump onboard the change train.

They’re paid to resist (Part 2)

Does their compensation structure (particularly when commission or tier-based) reward them more significantly for other activities? If they can make 2-3 times the commission or fees based on doing what they’ve always done, and it will make up for any penalties or commissions lost by not doing what you want them to do, why would they choose to behave otherwise?

There are bigger issues at hand.

Is your company facing lawsuits, regulatory pressure, a revolution in the industry’s way of doing things or delivering product? If that’s going on, unless your project immediately and significantly contributes to solving that pain, it’s going to be the low man on the totem pole. Think about it, if you are in the horse and buggy business, and your business  is being threatened by the automobile, your project for more durable horse harnesses is not going to be a top priority.

You’re not making the benefits clear, or your benefits aren’t beneficial to them. 

Are you communicating the WHY of doing things in a new way?  And is that “why” compelling?  As we are taught in sales training, people spend too much time talking about features (how a product or service does something) vs. benefits (This product will help you do X in less time, and allow you to have greater revenue which will get you a great year end bonus). As a project leader, we spend much time dwelling on the features because you’re “building” the project. You have to sell the benefits to get people to cooperate.

You’re stretching them so far out of their comfort zone they’re afraid of looking stupid.

Never underestimate the discomfort factor.  Are you making them learn something they don’t think they’ll be good at? Are you having them interact with a new customer base or manufacturing process that they perceive will have a high risk of blow back on their career prospects if they fail?

They didn’t sign up for this: 

When you change how something is done, you may be forgetting that many of the people working in that industry consciously or subconsciously chose their profession in part because it didn’t focus on that skillset. A recent example is the number of doctors, nurses and medical professionals struggling with the fun of incorporating the required Electronic Health Records (EHR) protocols into their practices.  From the intricacies of having to chart patients via computer to the added issues of having to answer emails from patients on a 24/7 basis, this is a very new activity for many in the medical profession. While many are very computer proficient, it’s not exactly what they signed up for in a career, and much of that resistance comes with the package. “I can piece together the human body after multiple gunshot wounds and you think I should do what with this computer?!”

Many years ago I worked in a public library system, just as the DOS based internet was becoming a major research tool. We had several senior librarians, who were near retirement age, who opted for early retirement rather than have to master the rather difficult computer programming required to use the system. These were smart people who loved books, and chose their profession based on that, rather than computers. For many, at 57 or 58 years old, they just were unwilling to have to relearn their entire profession, and face the possibility of looking stupid in front of a teenager on a computer at the same time.

We’ve talked about resistance to change before, if you haven’t already done so, read What Dieter’s can teach us about Organizational Change and Change does not Occur in a Vacuum.

What other situations have you seen? Can you figure out why your team resisted? Share your successes and your mysteries in the comments below:

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Need help testing what you “know” to be true? Download our free Field Guide for understanding the organizational landscape before you begin creating change. “Reading the Terrain” gives you easy questions to ask yourself that will help you see your world with fresh eyes and broaden your perspective.  Sign up at the right to receive our newsletter and you’ll get a free link to download our guide. And no, we won’t bombard you with junk mail.

Why do Employees Resist Change, a simple graphic from Torben Rick

Courtesy of the always insightful Torben Rick, read more of his great stuff here!


Resistance to change in organizations - Torbenrick

Need more info on why Organizations resist change? Read What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change:

hit with the boomerang

Is your organization “boomeranging” right back to where it started?

Any dieter will gladly tell you about the body’s “set points.” For those of you who have been spared the joys of lifelong dieting, a quick synopsis is that our bodies have a “set point” a body weight or status that it will try to return to, despite behavioral changes. It is basically a “comfort zone” that uses the body’s tendency towards homeostasis to drive itself towards a certain functioning model. Think of it as a rubber band that has been stretched, snapping back into its original shape.

The question is; do businesses have a set point? Is there a “comfort zone” business model that most businesses, despite the outward flurry of change activities or new mission statements, will attempt to return to time and again?

Years ago I worked with a non-profit who had built itself around a key volunteer activity. Long after that activity ceased to return results as it had in the past, it was kept, a “sacred cow” due to the history of the organization. Which is fine if it is a conscious choice, but rather than acknowledge that the time had passed and keep the activity as a “nice to have” rather than a key income driver, endless attempts were made over and over again to revitalize that activity to bring it back to the center of the revenue plan.

Another example is an individual employee.  When they first start their employment they may learn a particular task they had not known how to do before. Or they are given the responsibility for a section of the P&L, a marketing activity, or a key account.  Ten years later, they will still have a particular bias towards that activity or account. This can be a great thing, where the depth of knowledge around the topic can be beneficial, or a blind spot, when they give undue weight to that item at the expense of the big picture.

For every “we tried that back in 2005” that a change agent gets (complete with the implied “and it didn’t work you imbecile”), it is worth considering that the audience is trying hard to return to a model or activity that is in their set point.  No one could possibly sell 200 widgets a day until someone does.  The problem is, once someone sells 200 widgets, it puts everyone who can’t sell 200 widgets on notice and possibly, makes them obsolete.  This is when you’ll see the accusations of “cheating” or “undue advantage”. Sometimes they’re right.   Sometimes they’re 100% right.   And other times, they’re just headed back for the comfort zone.

Have you noticed a “return to set point” in your attempts at organizational change?

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Rule # 9: Change Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

Shadows of change

Great Strategists understand they operate in the shadows of the history that came before.

Seth Godin said this so much more eloquently than I can; he calls it “The People Who Came Before You.”  When you begin to share your strategic plan with your team or your organization, you are standing in the shadow of all the ghosts who enacted change, or attempted to, with the same group. You are standing in the shadow of their experiences in other workplaces, at home and in past relationships.

If cost reduction strategies have always started with massive layoffs in the past, regardless of your words, the team will only hear “layoffs.”  If revenue growth meant giant sales goals that bore no relationship to reality, your “increase sales with our new strategy” will be reinterpreted as “We’re going to get some new scripting to take to the field and then they’ll raise our goal numbers.” Did the last strategic planning session feature a boring four day retreat followed by a zippy new mission statement and a binder that was shelved for all eternity the day after the retreat? Well, your call for a new focus on strategic planning will likely be met with some new mission statement suggestions and a request to vet the hotel location so everyone can set their tee times up front.

Ghosts take a heavy toll on team progress, especially when they are confronting change. Respect that the people you are asking to make that leap are carrying the baggage of many past adventures, the good, the bad, the awful and hopefully, the fantastic.  Having the right team in place before your unleash your plan is an important step. Asking that team about what has happened in the past, will help you unroll your plan to the larger audience in a way that can help people trust you enough to make the leap.

Want to get all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Click HERE

What Baggage have you had to address when rolling out new plans? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Think you covered all of that and your project still isn’t getting any love? Try here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.

© Jeanne Goldie 2015