Category Archives: Strategy

Stop Working Harder

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Last night, I got out of the office at 9:45p. I don’t know what it is. This has been going on for the past three weeks. On Monday, things don’t look so bad, but come Thursday and Friday, the work just seems to pile up. I worked the last three Saturdays and last week, had to come in on Sunday. Missed the football game.

If I had known ahead of time, I could delegate some of the work out and it would already be done. But I don’t know about some of this stuff until it’s too late, or don’t realize how long it is really going to take. All of sudden, the pile is stacked up and everyone has gone home. The work’s gotta get done.

I don’t believe you. If you sat down and thought about it, almost all of your work is predictable, you just don’t think about it. You don’t delegate out, because you like working under the gun. Here’s the thing. You think you will get sympathy from me for all your hard work, but the just dessert for hard work is more hard work. You have to stop working harder and start working differently. -Tom

That’s Me

“I don’t care,” Roberto insisted.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t care if that is what the boss wants. It’s a stupid idea. And my role is not to do stupid shit.”


“Call it what you want. CEOs run fast, sometimes making a mess. That’s why I have a job, to clean up the mess they call strategy. Somebody has to execute. That’s me.”

What Has Changed Around You?

Andrew was still upset. The contract was lost and there was nothing he could do about it. He had lost his appeal with the purchasing agent, the procurement manager and the director of operations.

“We did everything by the book,” he said. “This is the way we have earned all of our major contracts. Our reputation is stellar. I can’t believe this is happening.”

“You got sucker-punched,” I observed.

“What?” Andrew replied.

“Sucker-punched,” I repeated. “We often think that our future success lies in the fact that we had one small string of successes in the past. We think that the curve in front of us continues upward without hesitation. We do not realize that, as we continue to do things the way we have always done, the world subtly changes. The nuances of the deal creep up, new players enter the game without detection, and suddenly we are on our ass.” Andrew’s face showed no emotion on the outside, but his eyes betrayed a growing realization.

“There is good news, though,” I continued. “This is not a game. This is life. In a game, there are few second chances. The final period has an ending, even overtime is sudden death.

“In life, in business, there are lots of second chances and the final period can be extended. But only if you stop thinking about your past success and start thinking about what has changed around you.”

Market Responsive

“You improved your quality, so your warranty program became a competitive advantage instead of a liability. Your lead time was down to four weeks. You lowered your cost structure. Your output and unit profit was consistent and predictable, systems focus. And then the rug got pulled out?” I asked.

“Yes,” Arianne reluctantly explained. “Everything, up to now had been internally focused. Efficiency, pace, quality. Then, the market fell out. Our customers would shrug their shoulders and buy from someone else. At first we thought they didn’t understand what a quality product we had. We even sent out our engineers with our sales people to explain why our product was more durable, lower cost and could be delivered faster. But, it was us who didn’t understand.”

“What do you mean?” I quizzed.

“We had been so internally focused that we didn’t notice a shift in the market. Our market moved. Our product was fine, but our market wanted something different. Our competitor smoked us. They had re-tooled a number of features based on user-feedback. We had no clue.”

I nodded my head, “Market responsive.”

“Yes,” Arianne confirmed. “It cost us a million dollars in stagnant inventory and months of development time to catch up. We had been so internally focused, we almost lost the ship.”

Debriefing Winners

“Let me see the projects that you put in for review,” I said, as Sean handed over the list. I scanned down the page, “I see you selected six, tell me, how did you decide which ones for the group to do a post mortem on?”

Each quarter, Sean’s team spent four hours going over significant projects for the quarter, looking for lessons learned. “Oh, that was easy,” Sean replied, “these were the eight biggest money losers.”

“It is always tempting to debrief a project where things have gone wrong. Once you have corrected all those problems, where are you?” I asked.

“My guess is, we are back to even steven. No loss, no gain, no harm, no foul.”

“If you really want to make progress, you also have to analyze where things went right. Pick two or three winning projects to debrief. Find out why you were able to make significant margins. Where was the advantage in those projects? Where can you find more projects like those?”

Timing is Everything

I just spent some time digesting the latest report from ITR. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach, mixed emotions. On one hand, the recovery is underway, but the next bump in the road is only a scant two years away. I have shared this news recently as a “tapping of the brakes,” but this month’s ITR Report uses the “R” word.

“We see the issues of future higher interest rates; higher taxes; federal, state, and local government deficits; unfunded pension liabilities and inflation (including energy and food) as contributing factors to what we think will be a recession that begins in late 2013 and encompasses all of 2014.”

Driving With Both Feet
And I am only talking about the gas pedal and the brake pedal. Between now and 2013, you have no choice but to charge ahead, as fast as you can prudently go. But keep one foot over the brake pedal. Depending on your industry, and some are still reeling (non-residential construction), be careful about building overhead that you cannot easily get rid of. The good news is that we have some warning and time to position ourselves appropriately.

I encourage you to subscribe to ITR, and pay attention. You can find out more information at this link ITR Trends Report.

The Machines Stood Silent

What a year. Running hard, just like you.

This has been a year of transition. The world changes. Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape. I know everyone is hoping that 2011 will be better than 2010. And it will.

But this next year is not about coping. This next year is about growing. Even in those most difficult market segments like non-residential construction.

Some of what we know will no longer be valid. Some old solutions will no longer fit new problems. It will require our brightest mind and sharpest execution. And it will always come down to this.

  • Find a market need big enough.
  • Build a product or service to meet it.
  • Then produce it faster, better and cheaper than your competitor.

But, now it is time to rest and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Management Skills Blog will return on January 3, 2011. And now this story, first published here in 2005.
As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

Third Egg Strategy

I have to share with you, a new blog posted by my favorite guru of Customer Service, Howard Hyden. I have been a fan of his ideas for more than a decade. Good stuff. This is his first post.

The Third Egg Strategy
I met a client for breakfast at a coffee shop close to his company where we were greeted with a long line. He indicated that this place was always packed in the morning and a typical wait would be 15 to 20 minutes. He also indicated that there was another coffee shop not far down the street that was always half-empty. Read More.

Nuclear Winter

I spent last week working with my executive groups on an exercise with two purposes. The first purpose was to examine this most recent recession and look for lessons learned. The second purpose was to light a fire moving forward.

In 2005, we first learned of the impending recession, its timing, depth and breadth. My resource for this warning was Brian and Alan Beaulieu at EcoTrends. In January 2007, EcoTrends confirmed their forecast, before we retreated to the basement nailing down the hatches.

In that meeting, Alan Beaulieu, to create some hope (or an economist’s attempt at humor), spoke about the recovery. “There will come a time,” he started, “when we will give you the ALL CLEAR. It will not feel like the ALL CLEAR. It will still feel like nuclear winter. But we will tell you.”

And that signal has appeared. NOW is the time. NOW is the time to be aggressive. NOW is the time to take market share.

“There will be no double-dip,” they confirmed two weeks ago.

Your competition is still on its heels, whining and complaining about the economy. Now is the time to open the hatches, mobilize, expand your tolerance for risk.

Your competition still sees the world in nuclear winter. Now is the time to strike.

Think about your target in 2013. What steps do you need to take?