Category Archives: Leadership

Growth, Finding and Exploiting the Hidden Gem

Today we will talk about growing the hidden gem. That may be your entire business, some overlooked component of a larger entity, or a new way to think about a product or service in your arsenal. Usually doing this will require a fresh perspective, a change at the top of the organization. In cases where it is not the owner of the P&L, they must be open to change and willing to revisit core beliefs about the business. In other words, if the revitalization and rethinking necessary for growth is not coming from the top, it had better be a close lieutenant, with a supportive leader. Since that is the hardest case, where the leader does not change, we will consider how to drive growth in that circumstance.

Honestly, this approach to growth is no different, aside from the need to enlist the agreement and explicit support from the leader. The first order of business is to understand the environment, internally and externally. Figure out the values, beliefs and needs of the key constituencies, line employees, leaders, customer gatekeepers (if there are such people), any other intermediary customer and the ultimate customer. With your internal constituents, also seek out their thoughts on organizational strengths, weaknesses, and non-essentials. With all this, you can identify gaps in your product and service offering or even just misalignment in your messaging. You can also conceive of products, services and support that might not be expected or even wanted, but needed. In fact, that is one of your best avenues to growth, the unmet need, and a tremendous opportunity to stand apart from your competitors, too.

Done well you should also identify unnecessary processes or products (read costs) too. This could easily pay for whatever you might do on the growth side. Once you have a firm idea of the upside potential, sub-optimized, new or enhanced products or services, and non-essentials, you must pull together an execution plan – a path forward to fill the gaps, stop the non-essentials, and add where appropriate. Then you must create communication plan – both internally and externally – to gain consensus, momentum and support for change.

Now you have a solid foundation for growing your hidden gem. You have a clear understanding of just how everyone views your business, a good sense for the disconnects – whether that be product, process or communications, more than likely a way to pay for it all, a clear path forward for your operations and a well defined communication plan. Now go grow that business!

Execution … the Secret Sauce of Strategic Planning

Far too many leaders, managers really, are good at either developing strategies or execution. The fact is that execution is the secret sauce of strategic planning. Like so many dusty three ring binders of costly consulting projects of the past, the most brilliant and spot-on strategy, even when perfectly articulated, is not worth the paper it’s written on without great execution. So, how do you get a line of sight for all your constituents from their day-to-day to these lofty corporate ambitions?

I call it Tactical Translation. What I mean is the process of articulating a concept in ways that are meaningful for various constituencies. I most typically do this by driving the concept through a series of steps that makes it more and more tangible, while clearly demonstrating the linkages. Take a Strategic Vision, for example, where you are taking your organization in the most macro sense, along with a Mission, how your organization fits into the larger whole – whether that is the broader corporate structure or the community, and first talk about specific, measurable Goals. Those goals are readily translatable to Programs. These Programs are major thrusts of the organization, like cost control and risk management, which I discussed yesterday. I like to think that individuals in your call centers, processing facilities and field sales can look at these Programs and say ‘why am I doing this, it isn’t helping us with any of those Programs.’ By the way, you should encourage them to do that, too. Lastly, Programs are comprised of individual Projects or initiatives. This is the working level, where you utilize project management tools to bring effective and efficient closure to individual projects, and where individuals engage on teams to get the real work done. Taken in aggregate, the Projects move the Programs and drive the measurements that constitute the Goals. Utilizing intermediate, achievable, yet challenging Goals ensures that the organization is always on its way toward the Strategic Vision.

That is how you turn strategic plans into execution.

Why Not Focus on Growth?

With so much emphasis on cost control and risk management, I ask you why not focus on growth? That does not mean, nor do I advocate, taking attention away from these other two vital pillars of successful business leadership. It is a fallacy that you can cost and risk contain your way to a better, more sustainable business. Ultimately, you have to return your attention to the top line. I argue that three major themes is a better approach to leadership, especially in this prolonged low growth environment. Done effectively, your business will emerge not only much stronger, but also much larger. This is particularly true because so many others, your competitors, are so busy focusing internally.

Be bold. Look for market share growth. Find new outlets for your products and services. Deepen your relationships with existing customers. You might even find growth by tuning your cost and risk initiatives to focus on delivering the things your customers most need and want – and eliminating what they don’t. This is not a zero sum game. Your team can handle more than one or two major thrusts. Done intelligently, these growth initiatives need not be investment or expense hogs. Face it, more people are energized by customer focused activities than cost control or risk management, and if you can blend them, all the better.

In the end, you need all three, and you can have them. Your ultimate objective is to come away from this a larger entity, with a stronger balance sheet, higher customer loyalty and employee engagement, and a lower risk profile. Who can’t get enthused about that? So get started. Today.

Tax Reform and a Growth Agenda

I recently came across this article from Art Laffer ( in which he advocates for implementing a consistent internet sales tax across all states as a driver for a national growth agenda. It is an interesting argument, and one I have not favored over time. His point, however, is that the incremental revenue generated by states for internet sales conducted from their state will enable them to re-balance other state tax burdens, potentially freeing retail spending power at the individual level or investment spending at the corporate level. Surely if that were to happen, and he argues that Wisconsin has already passed a statute which ensures that revenue gains will be offset in individual income tax rates, it will create a growth surge. He quantifies it as a $563 billion increase in GDP and 1.5 million new jobs created. Relative to the progress we have seen since the downturn, that is a giant leap forward.

His article is worth a read, and I am interested in your opinion, before and after.

He makes an early point in his argument that the lowest possible tax rate on the largest possible base is the best solution to our tax issues. Here, I couldn’t agree more. Flattening the tax code, reducing complexity, and eliminating special preferences (call them what you will), is the most rational approach we could take. I remain highly doubtful Washington will ever get this kind of traction, if only because the special interests have outsized appetites to keep their own special preferences. Consequently, which lobbyist do you believe will be left out in this simplification process? Again, weigh in on your opinions, but my greatest hope is that Washington moves in this direction and the outcome doesn’t serve to amplify the preferences … the worst case scenario.

Business Transformation Requires Balance

Successful business transformation requires all the elements outlined in, but, most importantly, it requires balance. Business transformation is neither a top line, nor a bottom line exercise. A balanced approach is essential, and the relative emphasis will depend upon the situation. There is no doubt, though, that focusing exclusively on growing the top line without any effort on the back of the house, business processes, productivity, cost and risk containment, will ultimately create much more challenging issues, if it works at all. A balanced refresh across the business is the hallmark of truly sustainable business transformation. Ultimately, all aspects of your operation from product or service to go-to-market strategy to business intake and fulfillment to billing and after sale support should get a hard look and refresh. Every constituency should feel the change. I have come to believe that properly executed the steps outlined in should not feel forced or dramatic. Rather, the best business transformations feel organic, like a natural evolution, not a sudden revolution. Remain focused and committed to your path and enjoy watching your customer and employee satisfaction scores rise inexorably. To them it just seems better, they may not realize the magnitude of change, and that is ideal. To you, both your top and bottom lines should improve, and your work environment should feel and be better, too.

The Importance of Values in Business

Seems like any given day you can read an article about misconduct in business. I suppose that is what makes true integrity and ethics such a powerful tool. Follow some simple rules – say what you mean, do what you say, do not cross the line, treat people with respect – and you will find much more ready support throughout your organization and from your customers and prospects, too. In a sense, those basic tenets are the foundation of leadership. I had the good fortune of spending 16 years at GE under the leadership of Jack Welch. He spoke of GE Values, and two of those stay with me today: Integrity and Candor. I believe they go hand-in-hand because candor – calling things as you see them – keeps the organization from getting off track by quickly identifying miscues and avoiding misunderstanding. Integrity – doing the right thing – ensures that everyone is operating above board and without malice. The bonus for achieving true pervasiveness of these two values is eliminating hidden agendas and office politics. I know I have never accomplished this nirvana, but it sure is worth the effort, even if you only get 90% there. Two simple values with an outsize impact on culture and customers perception. That’s worth trying.