#3 of 3 Great Reasons why what Worked for you Before, isn’t Working Now.

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?

Joined us in the middle? See Reason #1 and Reason #2

Reason #3. Your product is wearing the wrong clothes.

Your product/business/idea may be great, but it may be dressed in the wrong packaging for your intended audience. Now this isn’t usually the main driver, but can be why growth has stalled. What do “the wrong clothes” look like?

  • Your high tech/impulse purchase product isn’t optimized for mobile access, or you created a high tech mobile product for a “not very high tech” audience. You may have reached the saturation point for the people that recognized your product in the space it is in, but you may be missing a much larger market that is playing in another playground.
  • Your choice of market place isn’t reaching the maximum audience.  Are you a retail store? Are you in a indoor mall? How is your foot traffic vs the foot traffic at a strip center (and yes, it was a very different story 10 years ago)? Or maybe you’re a business website with a non-visual based business who is doing all your marketing over on Pinterest.  Blogging when your audience wants podcasts? It may not be that you’re located in a bad place, you just may not be located in the optimal place.
  • Your packaging doesn’t match what your audience’s expectations. Are you a luxury business with a pre-canned, pre-formatted word template for everything from invoices to your website that reeks of beginning Microsoft 101? Is your website loaded with “Coming soon” and a copyright date of 2011 running across the bottom?

 Well that’s just great, Jeanne. So what do I do now, Little Ms. Fix it?

Read our next article, Charging Back Uphill, Blasting out of a Stall. 

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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”

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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.

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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…

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! )

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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.

 

Admitting Failure, Rewriting the book on Burying Mistakes

Admitting failure

When you have to move to plan B, did you learn anything from what went wrong with Plan A?

This morning I came across the Admitting Failure website. This fantastic site, a collection of well intentioned projects gone wrong, is the brainchild of Engineers without Borders, a volunteer group of Engineers who commit to doing engineering projects around the world. It’s an offshoot of their original “Failure Reports” that they compiled each year to detail projects that had not worked out as planned or not survived after they left.

Most businesses don’t keep “Failure Reports.” Most prefer to bury the mistakes as quickly as possible and move on, so perhaps it’s not unexpected that it took the analytical mind of engineers to not only catalog and categorize their mistakes but actually share them publically.  (By the way, physicians do it too, with their Morbidity and Mortality conferences where they review cases gone wrong).  What was particularly interesting was that the public website came out when one of  the participating engineers realized that the volunteer teams began to actually look forward to reviewing the annual “Failure Reports” to see what they could do differently.

The format of each story is fairly simple, What you set out to do, what happened, what went wrong, what could you have done differently, what do you do differently now? But inside each one is a world of truth. About setting clear expectations, trusting your gut, not being swayed from a proven success formula by outside pressure to hit a goal, knowing your customer.

We fail. We fail often. For every heartwarming “feel good” success or rocketing business success, there is a landscape littered with failures. The challenge is to learn how to fail forward, so the next time, the learning is faster and moves you to a higher ground.

Looking for a methodology on failing fast? Try Lean Startups by Eric Ries for ideas on how to fail fast and build something designed to be responsive to the market needs.

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Want to see if your organization is ready for change? Read “Reading the Terrain” A field guide to the Corporate Landscape. You can get your free copy by putting your email address in the subscription box at right.

 

Managing Great Expectations

failed projects, managing expectations

Sometimes there’s not much to celebrate!

Most change projects are wrapped in great expectations. They are designed to increase revenue, clients or efficiency, or stop the bleeding of expenses or resources. Not only are the projects expected to create change, but individual team members working on the project will usually have some career expectations tied to their participation, even if its just gaining notice for their work.

And yet, most projects don’t progress in a straight line. A+B+C does not always yield instant success. And sometimes what is created is an entirely different animal than the one you expected to create. The Lean Methodology is entirely based on this idea, that you will experiment, test with the public, and “pivot” your approach to design a product or project that meets the needs of the market. Groupon, the daily coupon site, started as an online activism platform called “The Point”, which was a failure and is now a publicly traded company which deals in discounted consumer goods and services.

Most projects in a corporate or government setting are not as easy to “pivot” based on the traditions, bureaucracies and politics involved, but its not unusual for a project to still become something very different from the original vision.

And some projects fail. Failures are sometimes hidden in a cloud of smoke, mirrors, shiny objects, beautiful press packages and discussions of the learning curve as a project quietly disappears. Others are very public disasters.

Pundits provide us with any number of pithy quotes to handle the great expectations of change, “Under promise and Over Deliver.” “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong” and “if you align your expectations with reality you will never be disappointed.” How you handle those expectations, both when things are going well, and when they are going very badly, is part of the skill you bring as a change leader.

Some projects will fail. Some will fail spectacularly. Others will have small pieces that work or sections that can be salvaged and repurposed but if you do this repeatedly, it’s important to understand that you will, indeed, fail at some point. And it won’t be fun. And sometimes a failure is just the jumping off place to a new adventure.

“Everything will be okay in the End, And if it’s not okay, it’s not the End.”

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Uncomfortable Conversation #2: The Project has some Cost Overruns. Big Ones.

Uncomfortable conversations series 2

We’re over budget. Way, way over budget.

The Situation:

You’re three quarters of the way through your project and you’ve just had a major setback. You underestimated the costs to get to this phase but the project is useless if only partially finished. Your cost overruns will be more than 20% of your total project budget, even with the contingencies you built in your initial estimate.

What you would like to say:

  • Perhaps if we didn’t always have to hire the lowest bidder for subcontracted work we might have had a chance.
  • It’s Internal Technology’s fault! (Everybody’s favorite fallback.)
  • If any of the components weren’t already held together with duct tape our idea would have worked.

Needless to say, none of these approaches will win friends and influence people.  And waiting to have this conversation does you no favors. You can bet that those who opposed this project in the first place, or those who just aren’t fans of you or your team, are waiting with knives drawn and absolutely have gotten wind of the overruns. If you don’t “beat” them to the decision makers, you lose.  You want to be the one to tell the story first, because otherwise your detractors will be taking out a billboard to tell it for you.

What you need to be prepared with:

  • A carefully vetted budget for the remaining tasks.
  • Suggestions on the remaining steps which could be cut, created as beta versions or scaled back in order to try to recoup some costs. Would adding time to the expected completion points of various project segments allow you to cut costs? (i.e. reducing overtime costs etc.)
  • Your original cost benefit analysis of the project and a revised version with the new budget figured in.
  • Proof of any additional productivity, sales results, or cost consolidations that have already occurred during the project implementation (which are directly due to the project). Look for numbers, not just “feel good” stories.   Revert to “feel good” stories only if there aren’t any numbers yet.
  • A firm idea of the “why’s” and “how’s” of what happened. Was it a true miscalculation? Were there so many change orders that the project grew or changed in scope? Did you hire the wrong subcontractor or make a mistake in calculating what the cost of each element of the project would be? What steps have you taken to prevent this going forward or are you still moving forward on hope alone?
  • Create a “Lessons Learned” list, making sure you’ve taken all snark or emotion out of it. Do any of these lessons indicate a similar issue may arise as you move towards project completion? Have you identified any potential future risks?

Having the conversation:

  1. Have a meeting first with the Project Sponsor to go over what has happened. Make sure they are fully aware of what you’ve done to correct things, what the new budget looks like, and any wins you have had. Show them the wins on paper or better yet, live. You need a true believer when the going gets rough. If the project sponsor isn’t a true believer, try to locate some of your allies on the management committee and go over your plan with them.
  2. Ask for the meeting with the executive team to apprise them of the situation. Be Calm. Be Factual. Be Precise.  Here is where we are. Here is what went wrong. Here is what is working. Here is how we plan to get it back on track. Here is what we’ve learned and how we will prevent it from happening again. Here is our best estimate of the costs. Here is our expected benefit of this project. Here are some of the savings/revenue/positive changes already resulting from our work.
  3. Use visuals. Clear, simple visuals of the budget, the changes, and the new budget are key. Show the new cost/benefit analysis (with the new charges) as well.
  4. Take responsibility for not catching the issue sooner.  Ask for their support of the new budget.
  5. Shut up.

What to expect:

  • As we’ve said before, once you have the conversation, you have to somewhat relinquish control of the results.
  • Understand that while there may be real consternation at the increased cost aspects of the project, you will also likely get reactions based on the internal politics between the members of the team you presented to.  If they are jockeying for political survival, they may overemphasize the “disastrous” aspects of the costs or may attack leadership or managerial skills, of you, your team or others that were part of the project. Others, surprisingly, may downplay the cost issue, perhaps because your project serves their needs for something they have planned for a later date.  It’s rare that you get a “pure” response in a meeting like this.
  • The best strategy is to have a firm strategy on how to go forward. After the team has had the time to absorb your initial message, ask for their support on the newly renegotiated timetable, budget and plan.
  • Increase communications on the project’s progress in relation to budget as part of your follow up to the committee. Determine if a weekly, monthly or daily update would be appropriate to the current scope of the project and develop a simple “at-a-glance” report that can be sent out.

How have you delivered this sort of bad news before? How did it go? Please share in the comments section!

Tim Ferris believes that “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” The Uncomfortable Conversations series on 52weekturnaround gives you the tools to have the difficult conversations that you encounter as a change agent. See the series here.

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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.

 

What are you NOT seeing? And what is it going to cost you?

 

people with blinders on

Are you stuck in your confirmation bias?

Years ago I would periodically attend senior staff level meetings for my boss when he was out of town. This would happen only a few times a year, but inevitably, my boss would be surprised at the insights I would give him from the meeting. Not the notes on what was said, but my take on the changes in the internal politics. Just by observing the meeting I could tell which departments were in favor, which were jockeying for position and which had fallen out of favor.  Often before he had even noticed.

Why?

When we’re in the middle of something on a constant basis we don’t always catch the subtle signs of impending change.  The details of our day to day existence distract us so we don’t step back and take a look at the big picture, and even when we think we do, we look at it through a filter of what we think is happening. We look for things that will reaffirm what we believe to be true and ignore those that invalidate our truths, there’s even a term for it, “confirmation bias”.

Test yourself today.  Are your assumptions about what’s working (or not working) true? Answer these questions off the top of your head… then go run some tests to verify.

Your revenue generators:

  • Who are your key clients?Are they the same people as previous years?  
  • Any changes in buying patterns? Do you know why? Would they cite the same reason?
  • What about payment patterns? Anyone now a slow payer that wasn’t?

Your Customers or End Users:

  • What questions are your customers asking?
  • Do they indicate movement towards a new product line, a new technology or a new need?  
  • Are they finding you the same way they used to? (Think of the days of yellow pages vs. internet, vs. mobile technology). Can they find you using the method they’re using?
  • If you have a physical location does it show up on Google maps?
  • Does the name of your company, department or group actually indicate what you do or sell now?

Your Team:

  • Morale up or down? Why? 
  • Are you attracting better talent to join your team than the talent you’re losing to competitors?
  • Is your team all from the same background? Schools, geography, ethnicity, gender, age, economic background? Any chance that’s hurting you?  
  • How long have they been in the same roles? Is there an incentive for them to move out if they can’t move up? What will you lose if they move out?

External factors and competition:

  • Is your competitor’s market share shrinking or growing?
  • Is the overall market for what you offer shrinking or growing?  
  • If the market is shrinking, what’s taking the place of what you are offering? Is there a new technology or is someone else promising a “magic bullet” solution to your customer’s needs? What’s attractive about that “magic bullet?”

Find any surprises?  We’re so busy trying to “make it all work” that tectonic shifts can be taking place beneath

book by Jeanne Goldie

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our feet without our noticing. Consider today a starting point, a new commitment to seeing the whole playing field.  For even more things to take a look at, download a copy of our free field guide, Reading the Terrain, by subscribing at with your email address. It will help you look at your playing field with fresh eyes.

Have you ever missed a key change in your industry? How did you catch up? What opened your eyes? Discuss in our comments section.

 

© Jeanne Goldie 2015