Situation: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Surviving the Maelström,” is a tale is of three brothers whose fishing boat is caught in a monstrous whirlpool, and how the reaction of each brother determines his fate. Similarly, in times of uncertainty, our ability to react with either panic or a rational, reasoned response determines our fate. How do you survive a maelström?
Advice of the CEOs:
Based on Poe’s story, you need to replace fear with assurance, uncertainty with boldness, and doubt with conviction.
There are several potential financial bubbles forming including student loans and negative interest rate loans to sovereign governments. Both, in their own way, pose a threat to the international and domestic financial systems and could rapidly impact borrowing costs for companies. The solutions are to stay in ongoing contact with customers, and to stay light and flexible as companies so that you can adapt to market changes.
For Internet companies, the shift to Freemium offerings (a base product for free with pay as you go functional add-ons) makes it more difficult to design viable business models, and means new competition for established companies in low capital cost businesses. Again, a solution is to stay in ongoing contact with customers, constantly reinforcing your value proposition and the reality of switching costs.
Creative Destruction – particularly the emergence of new companies that threaten large customers and can change the value perception of suppliers’ core competencies. Solutions include ongoing communication with customers seeing what they see as “the next big thing,” focusing on continually improving our own core competencies, and possibly teaming with the more promising emerging companies.
The illusion that advertising will pay for everything – in reality, advertising dollars are a scarce resource like all other resources. Solutions include testing our own value-adds as an ongoing process, and creating fast-fail models to cost-effectively test our own promotions.
Definitions of value and productivity are no longer stable; all depends on the method of measurement. A solution is to remain aware of the innovator’s dilemma and to continually renew our value propositions.
A workforce in flux where young people don’t want to work for what they perceive as “old line” companies, as well as early-retiring baby boomers who may learn in 3-5 years that they can’t afford retirement. Solutions include focusing on employee engagement, building more flexible and “liberating” business models, and teaming younger with more experienced workers to cross-train each other.
Situation: A professional services firm has opened a new office in Silicon Valley. Their immediate priority is building clientele in their new market. They have an excellent reputation in their other markets, but are as yet unknown in in either Silicon Valley or Northern California. What can they do to create buzz and local awareness? How does a professional services firm get known?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hire a part time PR person who is familiar with the local community. For example, this may be an experienced Mommy Tracker – a woman who puts priority on being a mother, but who is also interested in working part-time with a flexible schedule. The role will be to schedule speaking engagements with local organizations, groups or companies.
Think about publishing a book, whether yourself or with a professional writer. Tweak it to include a section on start-ups and do a book speaking tour in Silicon Valley.
Consider sponsorship of prominent local organizations. In Silicon Valley this could include incubators or entrepreneur groups. These are companies who could benefit from professional services.
Offer seminars to target clients, or those that invest in target clients – for example venture capitalists or angel investment groups.
Get to know the WI Harper Group (wiharper.com) – connected with Walden International. This is a San Francisco venture capital group with limited partners from China, and with a focus on US/Asia technology transfer.
Highlight past success in helping clients to gain funding.
The suggestions outlined here can be applied to opening a new office in any new location.
Situation: A company wants to develop a better planning and execution process. Historically they have been poor at meeting goals and objectives. What are the most important factors that improve planning and execution in your company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take the advice of Jack Stack in his book The Great Game of Business. When building a plan, do it as a company-wide exercise.
Make sure that all of your departments are involved, each has direct input into the development of its own goals, and each understands that they are fully accountable for the achievement of their own goals.
Also do this in open session, and assure that each department has the input of other departments whose activities are critical to the completion of each goal.
This assures that different departments are working in alignment and not against each other.
Finally, make the process interactive and add some fun so that everyone is engaged.
Milestones and meetings are critical. Each department develops quarterly goals to support the plan, and department heads meet bi-weekly to monitor progress and prevent conflicts. Revisit the plan on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to adapt as necessary.
Focus the plan on one-year performance – with quarterly objectives – but forecast financials and broad metrics out 3 years to assure that the 1-year plan supports long-term objectives.
Situation: A company has a key relationship with a major corporation. They recently completed work in Phase I of a multi-phase project which was fraught with difficulties. Now they are evaluating whether and how to proceed with Phase II. Do you continue a difficult partnership?
Advice from the CEOs:
What made Phase I difficult?
Initial work was done to original specs and on time. The partner then asked for additional work and a change to the original specs, but would not agree to pay for these changes. As a result, the company lost money on Phase I.
What alternatives exist?
In brief, you must fundamentally change the terms of engagement. You can convert everything to time and materials, so that when the partner makes changes or asks you to make changes, they pay as they go.
A second alternative is to reconstruct the project as a waterfall project with a fixed price up front. You agree to X iterations, at Y cost per iteration. Each iteration has a deadline and the work completed as of each deadline constitutes the final work on that iteration. You charge for additional iterations if the partner wants additional work after the final negotiated iteration.
A third alternative is to set a price that is 2x your estimated price, recognizing that there may be a need to change specifications during development. You will provide documentation of your time and effort. If at the agreed end of the project you have not used all of the funds budgeted, you refund the difference to the partner.
Adjust how you communicate with the partner as you renegotiate. Do not assume that silence constitutes agreement. Provide written documentation of your understanding at the close of each negotiation and invite them to correct any misunderstandings. Require that both sides sign this documentation to confirm agreement. Do not proceed until there is clear mutual understanding on all key points.
Purchase and use software to track any changes to requirements during the project. This will enable you to document both the changes requested and their waterfall effect on other portions of the project.