Posts Tagged ‘crisis’

Big lessons from small business

In Business Class, uhm, Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 at 7:57 am

More than once or twice in recent days, I’ve found myself at lunch tables and on bar stools talking with fellow small business folks about the ups and downs of the economy. And again and again, I find myself recommending the same book: Bo Burlingham’s 2005 work, “Small Giants.”

In that book, Burlingham presents a group of companies that, as he put it, “choose to be great instead of big.” From a Michigan recording studio to a Silicon Valley HR firm, and from a New York restaurant group to a San Francisco brewery, the companies Burlingham examined had made conscious decisions not to grow.

Well, actually, they chose not to grow by the traditional definitions of growth — by expanding beyond basic operations, for example, or by going public, merging or being acquired. All of them, however, would no doubt say they grew in other ways. And, by their measures, all seem to count themselves as successful. And, in pursuing their own definitions of success, they offer lessons for any business — of any size.

Consider this overview of the factors Burlingham says contribute to small firms’ mojo and decide for yourself.

 Choice. Recognizing that you have options beyond the usual paths to success, and, as a result, going a different way.

 Resistance. Choosing to resist the “obvious” paths to growth.

 Roots. Having an intimate relationship with geographic location — your city, town, county or region.

 Community. Maintaining intimate relationships with customers and suppliers.

 Family. Building intimate workplaces, where employees are like family.

 Variety. Organizing your business in an imaginative way, without feeling bound by typical structures.

 Passion. Having a leader with passion for the organization and what it does.

In various formula and measures, these factors combine to create a bigger, perhaps-less-tangible piece that Burlingham describes as a firm’s “mojo.” In the Jim Collins vernacular, this is most easily compared to a firm’s “hedgehog” … others might describe it as an organization’s  “DNA.” Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s that special thing, that unique quality, that defining aspect of an organzition that makes it stand out.

The thing to understand is that your firm’s “mojo” might not be the product you make so well, or the service you provide better than anyone else — it might be the process by which you make that product, or the way you provide that service. The trick is to identify that mojo and build on it … often discovering you can expand that mojo in ways you never imagined, to grow in ways you never thought possible.

And why is this notion so important these days? Because in times of marketplace upheaval, pursuing growth for growth’s sake seldom works. Instead, focus on your mojo in order to develop your organization’s true strength. Then you’ll not only survive tough times, but, when times are better, you’ll grow … in the ways that you choose to define growth.


Create a crisis, forge a team

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Have you noticed how a crisis can pull a team together?

Picture this: Your team has fallen apart. People are carping at each other, letting each other down and pointing fingers. They can’t get the simplest project completed on time. Then a crisis develops – maybe it’s a client meltdown, a serious illness on the team, or something as mundane as an empty soda machine – and suddenly everybody’s pulling together. They unite against a common foe and act honorably, selflessly and passionately.

I was reminded of this dynamic last weekend when I led a board retreat for an area nonprofit. Fortunately, this board hasn’t devolved into fighting and finger-pointing, but it does seem to have lost its way. The organization has stagnated, and nobody seems to know how to breathe new life into it. I was just about to address this topic when one of the board members said, “What we need is some sort of rallying cry.”

He had played right into my hands: The next topic on my agenda was an organizational strategy that uses a “crisis mentality” to rejuvenate a floundering team.

How? By establishing what author Patrick Lencioni (the guy behind business bestsellers such as “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “Death by Meeting”) calls a “thematic goal.” He defines this as “a single, overriding theme that remains the top priority of the entire leadership team for a given period of time.” Translation: An organizational rallying cry.

At a leadership conference a few years ago, Lencioni offered examples: For a tire manufacturer that had been through a tire recall, the thematic goal might be to “survive by re-establishing credibility.” A biotech firm might want to “avoid complacency.” He even offered one for his family: “Prepare for Baby No. 4.”

But simply creating the theme doesn’t get the job done. The thematic goal must adhere to certain guidelines and become a central part of operations.

Here’s how it can work:

Step 1: Establish the thematic goal. This must be a single goal, qualitative in nature but attached to metrics. In addition, it should have a time limit (six months, a year, two years) and it should be shared across departments.

Step 2: Establish defining objectives. These are secondary objectives that apply directly to the thematic goal. For the tire company, these could include fixing tire problems, settling lawsuits and improving distributor relations.

Step 3: Establish standard operating objectives. These are the key business components that need to be addressed regardless of the thematic objective – things like revenue and expenses, productivity, customer satisfaction and market share.

Step 4: Build leadership meetings around the goal and objectives.  Blow up your meetings and structure them around the defining and operating objectives. Ignore departmental agendas and invite everyone to participate in all discussions … a lot of new ideas come from people thinking outside their areas of expertise.

By rallying around the thematic goal, an organization can conjure up the positives of a crisis situation without the accompanying crisis. The result can be a group that is focused, collaborative and, most importantly, successful.

What thematic goal would get your organization to pull together?

 NOTE: For more on this topic, pick up Lencioni’s 2006 book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors