IF THERE IS one positive to be taken from the 2008 global financial crisis, it is the reminder that the world of business offers no guarantees. Just two years earlier, when markets were soaring and profits seemed all but certain, executives tended to think any new product or service would be a surefire hit and that steady long-term growth was a given.
IN THE WORLD of business, it is important to be seen to be moving with the times. That's because a big part of running a successful enterprise showing shareholders, clients, employees, partners and potential investors that the organisation is up with the best, forward looking and always in search of improvement.
IN MOST ORGANISATIONS, when a new or unexpected problem comes to light, the reflex action is to call a meeting. On the assumption that communication will spark ideas and diverse input will lead to results, a varied selection of the company's great and good will gather in the boardroom, hunker down around a conference table, or drag a few extra chairs into the manager's corner office. All too often, what then follows is a performance that could have been scripted days or weeks in advance. The topic, the timescales and the experience of the people involved will obviously differ, but the "characters", their approaches and methods of acting tend to be remarkably similar wherever you go.
WHETHER YOU CALL it product development, strategic planning or sales forecasting, in the end, it comes down to the same thing: to be successful over time, businesses need people who can see the future. They don't have to be geniuses or visionaries in the mould of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or Bill Gates. And they certainly don't need to come up with vacuous "vision statements" about having a passion to serve customers and be the best. What every business does need, and always will, is individuals who can see what's coming next. On one level that may amount to little more than functional foresight. For example, right around the holidays, planes will be overbooked, shopping will be intense, and any production services needed will be slower than usual. Base any plans around any of those factors and you won't go far wrong.
WHAT IS A value proposition? It seems like a straightforward question. However, ask any number of sales and marketing executives to define their product's value proposition and often they have a hard time coming up with a clear, concise and compelling message. Sure, they have a number of colourful and dynamic PowerPoint presentations that explain the unique selling point, how the product is different from the competition and the benefit the customer will receive, but this is only part of a value proposition equation. Put simply, a value proposition is the promise that a product makes to a customer that outweighs its total cost. "That outweighs its total cost" is the part of the value proposition that most people overlook. This is important, because many products offer great value, but value is relative to the cost, risk and effort required to make a product useful.
IF YOU ASK any business executive to name a few direct competitors, the chances are they will rattle off at least three or four with no trouble at all. But then ask the same person what differentiates their company from the competition and the answer will usually be far less definite. In reply, you may get an abbreviated version of a standard sales pitch, or a few improvised thoughts inspired by half-remembered figures or a couple of points repeated from a recent management pep talk. The answer, though, will almost certainly contain a large element of wishful thinking based on “what we like to believe”, and not so many verifiable facts that stand up to further scrutiny.
WHEN VILFREDO PERETO noted, in 1906, that 20 per cent of Italy's population owned 80 per cent of the country's property, he had no way of knowing how widely his observation would apply to the world of economics, and to businesses. Since then, the Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, as it is usually known, has proven sufficiently flexible to turn up in all kinds of business scenarios and has become an accepted part of global management thinking. Thus, we hear that 20 per cent of a company's employees produce 80 percent of its results and, with suitable modifications to fit different areas or industries, the list of examples goes on.
EVERY BUSINESS LEADER knows just how precious time can be. As responsibilities increase and technology advances, it can often seem that there are simply never enough hours in the day. Obligations pile up to chair meetings, join conference calls and attend client functions, and all the while there is that ceaseless inbound flood of emails, texts and phone messages expecting urgent attention. Executives, of course, soon learn that having to deal with all these demands is just a function of the modern business world. As a result, they become used to logging on to inflight wifi, addicted to their smartphones, and are experts in the art of the short-term fix. And that can turn out to be a major problem because, in the midst of all the running around and chasing to hit this month's sales figures or next quarter's financial targets, it is very easy to take one's eye off the ball.
AT SOME POINT in every successful business career, a discernible change in personality and behaviour must take place. It is not a question of Jekyll and Hyde or Clark Kent to Superman, just that the time inevitably arrives when the approach and outlook appropriate for taking the first few steps on the corporate ladder will no longer do. A sales director cannot think and act like a sales manager, nor a vice-president of finance like a compliance officer. So, anyone aiming to rise through the ranks must also be ready to undertake the steady self-transformation that will allow them to cross the invisible, but certainly not arbitrary, line that exists in every organisation.
IN THE WORLD of business, if you don't have an opinion, one thing is certain: you won't get very far. Whatever your role, be it employee, supplier, service provider or adviser, whoever is paying you will expect value for money and, in their eyes, that will include ideas, suggestions and clear evidence that your grey matter has been fully engaged. Previous business generations largely favoured the command-and-control model. Rigid hierarchies determined which people in an organisation or a working partnership were expected to do the thinking and whose role was more or less just to follow instructions.