Category Archive Vision

Strategy: How to outcompete the competition; finding sustainable competitive advantage

 Sustainable Competitive Advantage 

Few companies can lay claim to the holy grail market position for any length of time, retaining a sustainable position within a market. Here are some that come immediately to mind: Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Hoover, Apple’s Phone, Boeing, Walkman, Sky, Microsoft Windows, are all good examples of global companies who have achieved that today.  Sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to create and sustain a position within a market. Sustaining a desirable market position provides long-term competitive posiitoning for that brand.

The competitive advantage most companies strategically aim for is to own the space of early adopter within an adoption curve. That position is where a brand is seen as a premium player, producing innovative new products and services and able to command and earn premium prices for those products. That premium position, finding, and holding the early adopter position in any market, is seen as the optimum competitive advantage position within any market.

By finding that competitive position, and often helping creating the market structure, a brand takes ownership of that the competitive position and often drives the development and evolution of the market.  A company can choose to operate anywhere within a market and make it competitive if they build their business model to a defined market position.

Making it Sustainable

Making a competitive position sustainable requires a brand to develop its ability to sustain its position over the long term. That sounds easy in theory, but in reality is hard. Short-term attitudes in growth and profit can easily distract a leadership teams focus. Failing to invest in sustaining their brand’s market position, or stakeholder demands short-term profit taking, are two of the most common pulls that destabilise a brands’ established market position.

The challenge for any leadership team with their business is to be able to see the market position they want within that market position. Sustainable competitive advantage, the holy grail of a successful business is not easy to find, straight forward to own or simple to sustain, and that’s why it is every leaders’ holy grail.

How to Outcompete the Competition 

In mature (and often saturated) markets developing a unique strategic position can give a business sustainable competitive advantage. A sustainable competitive advantage in any market is the holy grail for business owners. To be somewhere that your competitors aren’t, and to have something that cannot be taken away, is what every business leader wants to achieve in setting up in business, and  dreams of achieving. It is one clear defining way of out competing the competition is to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in a market.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaners

To be recognised as the market maker, such as Hoover, whose name is synonymous with vacuum cleaners, gave the Hoover brand unbelievable control of the market for most of the 20th century.  Hoover, the brand leader owned the global market, with an unparalleled history, and complete market dominance. The brand name itself became synonymous with the product category, everyone hoovered with a Hoover.

So what changed? A loss of focus and desire to continue to own the market coupled with the airplane ticket fiasco which opened the door to new competitors.  One man in particular James Dyson who grabbed the opportunity to replace Hoovers’ once held position in the market launching his own Dyson brand through technology shift of his cyclone bag less vacuum.

His passion, created from vacuuming at home and becoming frustrated, seeing the cyclone idea at a sawmill which then took 15 years, 5,127 prototypes to turn into a winning product. Today this winning product benefits upon 60% recommendation purchases and has allowed Dyson to spin his cyclone technology into hair and air dryers as well as washing machines.

Features of Strategic Competitive Advantage

What are the key features of sustainable competitive advantage for any company in their market, well here are the most commonly found top five:-

  • Charge a premium for its services; even low cost suppliers out price other low cost suppliers.
  • Lead the market through innovation; will get to market new ideas quicker or in a more dominant way to shift the market to your agenda.
  • Controls the key channels to market; from buying decision processes to pricing structures.
  • Owns the pace of change within the market; from technology development and consumer mind set, being the pace setter in the market.
  • Control of buyer activity; the significant majority of the Share Of Buy (SOB) and Share Of Space (SOS) decsions through its dominance.

Sustainable competitive advantage is an extremely difficult goal. Most successful brands only ever achieve the challenger market position, one that challenges existing perceptions within a market. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage requires an organisation to constantly challenge not only the competition but also itself, to sustain its desirable position within its market.

Creating dominant sustainability requires the leadership to create a clear vision of where the company is going and where the market opportunity exists.  It takes leadership with passion, dedication and drive for a brand to succeed in moving from a challenger brand to one which can dominate its market such as Dyson. For men like James Dyson, the advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right product.  That has enabled a technological shift in the market with his bag less vacuum and a move to smaller cable-less products dominate the innovator position within the market.

Learn More about Strategy

If you want to develop your company’s position then there needs to be a vision for it. Where it is going and why. If your look for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.


Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay

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values in business matter to customers and employees

Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever as Ikea have found out

In today’s information driven world, how you do business matters as much as the business you do, as Ikea the iconic Swedish furniture retailer has just found out. Ikea’s green credentials have been dealt a massive blow in consumer’s minds. Ikea’s failure to support sustainability in its products leaves customers questioning its real values as a business.

Ikea only 16% sustainable wood 

Ikea’s failure to achieve its own most modest target of 30% of its wood products to be from certified sustainable wood, will damage it its credibility heavily with its key audiences. The fact that it only hit 16%, has a massive blow on the values it professes as promoting sustainably sourced materials and to its environmental positioning.  Compare that with Homebase (78%) and B&Q (77%), which won the best green award 2010.

The excuse given in its defensive press statement is that it has sacrificed the values of sustainability for rapid growth and protecting its profitability (£2.3billion). But short term greed like this can cost dearly on both growth and profitability over the long term.

Ikea’s staff not telling the truth 

This corporate failure was made worse by staff telling customers in store that its products are from sustainable sources. When in fact they are from illegal logging in places such as Russia. This insatiable drive for growth, which so often undermines trusted names, may damage the Swedish brand’s position as the leader in the flat pack market significantly.  This expose means that Ikea will now undergo microscopic environmental and customer scrutiny.

Ikea’s soft “long term” aspirational statements on their website with links to the Rainforest Alliance are unlikely to be seen as enough in the modern world where green wash marketing such as this are quickly exposed and penalised. When the spotlight of the green world is turned on, it is difficult to hide in the shade.

The World Bank suddenly in the late 1980’s promoted its ‘green credentials’ by promoting itself as having employed ‘an environmentalist’, to offset its image of chopping down forests for cash crops.  This green wash story was quickly exposed when it was pointed out the World Bank employed some 5,000 economists, what difference would/could one environmentalist make?

Values matter in business for leadership

Values must be transparent

The way you provide your product or service and to whom, says more about you than how much business you do. Being big in a highly segmented world is no longer the determinator of success. How you do your business now determines your current credibility and future success. Credibility is as much about your values in becoming successful as about the success you have. Mohamed Al-Fayed for example, despite buying Harrods, never shook off questions about his background.

Your values as an organisation as demonstrated by everyone inside your organisation matter to both existing and potential customers in choosing to do business with you. People have choices and they can now exercise them more freely than ever before, and that means customers can access information instantly to make choices that are more informed. Ikea’s staff misinforming undercover Times reporters about their sustainable and certified sourced products at a number of shops are one symptom of Ikea’s rapid growth boardroom culture.

Values Must Live In The Moment 

Almost everything in life is in real time and instantly communicated to circles of influence and beyond. A restaurant having  bad night can have a poor reputation before the starter has even been cleared away as customers post live feed back to sites such as Qype or Trip Advisor . Therefore, before the waiter, maitre d’ or chef knows what’s happening the world outside already does by Twitter and Facebook and are cancelling their reservations in their droves.

Why clean lavatories matter?

The old adage that if you want to know how clean the restaurant kitchen is, inspect the lavatories. This is because they tell you how the restaurant values cleanliness, is a great example of modern customer awareness. Do you live your values or just post them on your website? Is the question customers want to know in establishing and experiencing trust with you and your brand.

You can spend as much as you like on your website, Google reviews and trip Advisor comments, but simple first impressions such as the state of lavatories matter more to customers.

Rail companies learning fast

The recent story of the man on the train talking too loudly causing enraged customers to Tweet  complaints about his behaviour which was picked up by a duty manager hundreds of miles away who then contacted staff on the train to track down the loud caller and asked him to quieten down.

This story is very much testimony to the growing demands of customer expectations, immediate online response, not waiting for passing train staff to react. This story is part of the reputation shift that train companies are actively pursuing.

Values are in the detail

Values matter, they define the real differences between companies. How British Airways treats its customers through the values it embeds in its entire organisation is what makes it different to other premium airlines and distinguishes it from them, and from the bucket providers such as Ryanair.

However, as everyone de-layers in response to changing business models, cost and modernisation requirements, values can be lost in the rush to modernise and compete in new ways. BA’s changes to its premium dinner menu, introducing exotic main courses such as crocodile and ostrich sounded good but simultaneously cutting the After Eights, so there was not to go around 1st class passengers was a classic example of getting its values wrong in its customer’s eyes.

Values Must Involve Everyone

If you value your customers then remember everyone needs to smile in their role, if you believe in providing excellent customer service then don’t cut your front of house staff numbers.

Too many companies’ ideas of communicating values are to place a statement on a website, brochure, at reception and on the induction training programme. How many companies look at the strategic advantage of values and embed it into people’s roles, asking staff to define their role by those values by redefining their role to live those values?  How many companies review those values as outcomes in winning and retaining customers?

Values as seen by Customers and Employees

Customers, potential and existing, are drowning in choice.  What makes you stand out to them is the values you own and can demonstrate as a business. Statements on walls and websites always sound good, (possibly, because they are written by marketing people who do not work there) but unless the company lives them, then they do more damage than good. Over promising and under delivering is a growing experience for everyone today.

Whether it is a London hotel, stating it’s exclusiveness, as evidenced by its 5 star, pretty pictures on the website of its presidential suite and over the top statements such as “sumptuous 5 star accommodation” the jaw dropping price tag. When you turn up and find a broom cupboard with not enough space to turn around in let alone swing a cat, and you are one of 500+ rooms filled with bus loads of tourist on a package holiday then company values are under pressure.

The same is equally true for staff. Why should people stay loyal to you if you don’t live those values and enshrine them in every one of your people. Do they live it or lip service it?

New company’s leadership must create true values 

New companies have the unbridled opportunity to define their values from the start. By building them into their business model throughout the entire process from the beginning, providing value and clarity with every new role and new person, they can use their values to maximum leverage for attracting their chosen customers and staff.

So Googles’ “DO NO HARM” value won many plaudits, breaking down the concern about the is was then rightly questioned by their policy in China of being seen to be supporting censorship (try typing Tienanmen Square Massacre into Google in China it never happened!).  Now there is a good argument that rightly says any Google is better than no Google, but the contradiction against their stated values upset many Google Supporters elsewhere in the world.

Your values should come from within. What do you stand for? What does your company do? How should everyone do it? What does excellence look like? Some classic questions to understand the values you offer. I often ask people to think of an animal or car which best describes there organisation

Keeping Values Alive       

Established companies inherit values, often without realising they have them in place, “its how we do it around here” type phrases are often values hidden inside everyday activity. Keeping values alive is often hard in rapidly changing under-pressure environments. Changes in leadership, particularly when cross industry leadership is introduced or when new pressures are introduced from changing ownership for example often end up throwing out the hidden value of a brand in the race to achieve short-term results.

Everyone entering a company, particularly top executives, must understand the core heritage values any organisation has, how they are owned and expressed. The best way to achieve that is for new people to present those values back under peer group review and add to them with the changes they intend to introduce. New products/services need to incorporate core values and learn to demonstrate them in new ways as new channels of communication are opened up.

Values Check List 

  1. Are your values visual to your team and customers? 
  2. Does everyone know your core values, have you checked?
  3. Can all your people translate them into their daily role?
  4. Do people see the company values in other people’s roles within the organisation?
  5. Do customers comment on those values in their dealings with your company in formal and informal feedback channels? 

If you can only answer confidently to only points one and two then you are not living your values as a business. If you cannot hand on heart even answer those two them its probably time to look at your values in a lot more detail. Spend time to think through what you and your business stands for and get in touch if you need any assistance in creating values which matter to you.

Leadership Strategy

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Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay

Strategy: The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay, a book fo how you can create your business strategy, with all the tools a business leader needs to build their business strategy.

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Do you have a vision or are you just a dreamer?

No matter how big or small your business is without a clear vision of where you are going owners and directors often fall into the classic trap of just managing from day-to-day. A business needs great leadership, and for that they need to create a clear business vision, which will make and deliver longterm leadership success.

Envisioning the Future

Leadership is about investing time, envisioning the future and effort to see into the future and imagine how things could be, is as important for success as having real passion for the business and the determination to create something new. These three personal qualities of leaders are vital for successful companies and a vision statement, sometimes called “a picture of your company in the future”, but it’s so much more than that.

Vision Statement

Your vision statement is your inspiration, the framework for all your strategic planning. A vision statement may apply to an entire company or to a single division within that company.

The vision statement answers the question, “Where do we want to go?” What you are doing when creating a vision statement is articulating your dreams and hopes for your business. It reminds you of what you are trying to build. A vision statement is for you and the other members of your company, not just for your customers or clients.

Visionary goals should be longer term and more challenging than strategic goals. Collins and Porras describe these lofty objectives as “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.” These goals should be challenging enough so that people nearly gasp when they learn of them and realize the effort that will be required to reach them.

Most visionary goals fall into one of the following five categories:

  1. Targeted – quantitative or qualitative goals such as Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  2. Common enemy – focused on overtaking a specific firm, becoming the number one in that sector, such as Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
  3. Role model – to become like another in a different industry or market, the mirror role, Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) “Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic”.
  4. Internal transformation – creating internal vision, GE set the goal of “Becoming number one or number two in every market it serves”

While visionary goals may require significant stretching to achieve, many visionary companies have succeeded in reaching them. Once such a goal is achieved, it needs to be replaced; otherwise, it is unlikely that the organization will continue to be successful. The second most dangerous place for a company is to have achieved its only goal, the most dangerous place is never to have had one.

Creating Your Business Vision

Simple steps to creating your vision, ask some simple questions:

  • What will our business look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • What new things do we intend to pursue and how?
  • What future customer needs do we want to satisfy?

Write the answers down and focus on developing them into a coherent, motivational and purposeful message which can connect with everyone.

Then Question:

  • Does our vision statement provide a powerful picture of what our business will look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • Is your vision statement a picture of your company’s future, which everyone can interpret into their role?
  • Does it clarify the business activities to pursue, the desired market position and capabilities you will need

If your statement answers these questions then you have a vision worth owning and sharing. A vision must be motivational to everyone inside an organisation.

The classic apocryphal story to demonstrate the effectiveness of great visions is about the time President Kennedy visited NASA. During one trip he came across a cleaner sweeping the warehouse floor, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

Now I don’t know if the story is true, but it’s inspiring. In a facility full of high-powered individuals and great minds, even the cleaner was completely on board with the strategy. While you may not be planning to put a person on the moon, we can learn a lot from the story. It may sound ridiculous, but every business needs to be a little like NASA.

Great visions can create an unstoppable company

Every organisation needs to have a clear vision, owned by everyone inside and outside it. An owned and shared vision creates and sustains great morale and internal strength for companies, which can become a powerful and unstoppable force in any market no matter how competitive.

At Cowden Consulting we focus on ensuring companies can successfully compete in their chosen or desired market.

Like to learn more then get in touch with at Cowden Consulting.

 

Strategy the leader's role book by Richard Gourlay

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Successful Leaders Plan Their Business

Business Planning

Business planning often gets a bad press.  Yet those who do sit down and plan their business are so much more focused, confident, and successful than those who float along with the economic tide. Successful leaders plan their business, so they can focus on leading their team to deliver that plan.

Over the past ten years as a strategic planner we’ve worked with hundreds of business owners and seen how those that create a plan and implement it. Those that plan their business do so much better than those owners who try aimlessly lead their business on a wing, a prayer or a dream.  Successful leader’s plan their business, so that everyone knows where they are going what their role is in achieving that success.

Business planning in business is an important part defining success

According the latest BERR report, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.8 per cent of private sector employment and 49.0 per cent of private sector turnover. SME’s really do matter to the British economy, and yet they receive little effective support from Government agencies despite being the backbone of the economy, employment, and innovation.

Why Business Leader’s Don’t Plan

“If you don’t make things happen, things will happen to you” Lanes Company

Having questioned business owners over the last decade the reasons why owners have not put a plan in place and then executed it, the excuses range from not having the skills, make the time, or have the conviction of their thoughts. Owners know they should have a plan ‘we had one when we first started, but have not looked at it since’ is a common theme. The other is being too busy fire fighting to realise that preventing fires starting, is the best way to not have to fight them.

Do business owners not see the value in developing a plan for their business? On the other hand, is the classic perception for business owners that frenetically staying alive is seen as being successful? For many not knowing how to plan is one major reason why people haven’t and don’t plan their business.  Where to start, and how to know what they are trying to achieve immediately puts people of planning.

Faults in Business Planning

Business planning is also often at fault here.  The most common reason new start up businesses create a business plan is to secure funding from banks, that’s when banks did fund business start-ups (now they just offer a high interest mortgage backed by the Government). Therefore, once people have received funding they no longer see the main advantages of planning (and the real advantages are not around money).

business planning for leaders to ensure success by Richard Gourlay

Business planning is not an accident it is intentional.

Business Planning Skills – Have some GOALS

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” – Lee Iacocca

Planning takes time, resources, (grey stuff) not the executive trip to some exotic away weekend planning, but some time allocated to review where you are as a business, how your sector and industry are performing and what you want to achieve in the future. Whether it is looking at the next year or planning the next five years, everyone who owns or directs a business is responsible for setting its direction. However, just having a plan in your head, with the classic defence of ‘its flexible at the moment’ is either ducking the responsibility or deluding themselves.

The only way to have a plan rather than a dream is to have it written down, turned (if it is not already) into an action plan which is resourced and owned by someone to deliver. Only then do businesses go forward in a deliberate purposeful way. Only then do the right things happen because you made them happen and only then can everyone, employees, shareholders, customers, channel partners and even other halves, see your dream, share your dream, deliver your dream. That’s when planning works. It is a written document, which lives within your company, and it doesn’t matter if you are a one-man (woman) band or running a multi-national Plc.

What Business Planning Delivers

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” – Robert Heinlein
focus in business for leaders to focus on

Have a business plan that works for your business as a leader

Planning provides focus in strategic direction.  It provides clarity of where the business is and where it is going as well as a vehicle for getting from where you are to where you want to be. Planning time out of the business provides time to reflect on personal and corporate goals, time to share and channel new ideas while reviewing existing activities.

Planning in a structured and open format develops clarity of purpose and a clear understanding of the organisational and individual skills people have and can use to leverage advantage. Bringing in outside views widens the planning horizon, a fresh perspective to drive businesses forward. This is why many successful businesses use non-executive directors or outside specialists to help drive their business forward. That is one reason why so many people volunteer to get support from people like the Dragons from Dragon’s Den, they are looking for expertise and advice which gives them confidence to go forward as much as the money.

 

Plan More For Success

British business owners need to plan more often to keep being successful. Good planning creates and sees opportunities as owners and directors lift their heads up from the daily grindstone. How often should you plan? Well it all depends on the speed of your market’s evolution, but even stable and stagnant businesses should review their business every year, and not just a light dusting (add ten percent and change the year) but strategically review what and how well they are doing.

It is only by looking for fresh opportunities and how to take best advantage of them, by planning your business around those opportunities, that companies successfully compete in today’s business environment.

Business Planning is not a four letter word

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” Jack Welch

The old adage, compete or get beat, is more relevant today than it has ever been. The rise of the Internet means there are no secrets, competitive advantage lies with those who can see an opportunity and adapt fastest to take advantage of it. Those owners and directors who see and go for opportunities become the stronger ones.  That is where good strategic business planning provides it real advantage. That’s why successful leaders plan their business to achieve that success.

By orientating a company to where it can retain better, win new and develop existing customers companies that plan their success out compete in their sector, and equally importantly have everyone focused on where they are going. From the smallest to the biggest every business needs to have a plan that is written down, owned and guiding your business in the direction you want it to go.

Good Luck

Richard Gourlay

@richardgourlay

www.cowdenconsulting.com

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Do you have a plan for Growth?

Do you have a plan for GROWTH? 

Leadership is most often identified as someone with a clear vision to grow their organisation, of where it is to where you want it to be within its market. By definition, that means looking for and finding growth.  All leaders must focus on looking for growth and development of their organisation if leadership is going to be seen as successful. But many leaders do not have a plan for growth within their organisation.

Leaders need a plan for growth

Do you have a clear vision of where you are going to take your business?  From understanding the market and its direction to where your business needs to be within those sectors, to profit from the growth within the market.  Leaders need to be strategically aware of their market if they are to find and focus on growth within their organisation.
Leaders must also redesign their organisation so that it can take advantage of growth opportunities, redesigning how a business operates to increase turnover and / or profits is at the heart of ensuring a leadership team has plan for growth.  Revitalising the sales and marketing operations is at the heart of acquiring more clients and developing improved relationship structures with customers and channel partners.
With a plan for growth leadership teams can reduce the amount of down time and focus their efforts on driving your business forward, with a clear vision of where you are going and why.  Successful businesses develop strategic plans to move their business forward, to grow and succeed, while being in control.
The first role af any owner or director is to have a plan, from star-up onwards (not for the banks) but for you to own and deliver. That plan needs to be kept alive, fresh and driven to focus on success and succeeding.

GROWTH needs a Strategy

strategy is a researched approach by the leadership team, supported by a detailed plan of continual action steps to get the organisation to where you want it to be. The reason strategies are so vital is they keep things moving, and in business, if you are not going forward, you’re going backwards, and that can happen very fast.  So, if you want your business to be successful and/or pay you more, having a strategy that focuses on growth is a must!
If you have no formal strategy to take your business to the next level you need to refocus your priorities right now to create growth, here’s the first stage of a growth strategy framework:

Create a clear vision of what you want to achieve:

There’s an old saying that you can’t hit a target you can’t see. Well your vision is your target. Your vision needs to be very clear in terms of what you want from your business, by turnover, profit, customer type or all three? What’s your ideal position in that market, do you want to be known as the premier supplier of your product or service, or a low cost or niche player?
What about your personal goals to support your lifestyle?  You need to be very clear about what you want and what you don’t want. Have a clear focus that will keep you aligned with your long term goal for you and your business. Make your vision aspirational, where do you want your business to be within the net 3 to 5 years? What will it look like and what will the business feel like to be part of?

Looking for Business Growth

Starting with a clear vision for growth within a business is the simplest and most powerful way a leader can motivate everyone. Growth is about understanding the drivers of growth within your business sector.  Knowing where a market is going requires leaders to step out of the day-to-day operational detail and focusing on the drivers of your market.
Growth is fundamental to a successful company. Finding growth does not mean just looking for growth in turnover, growth in profitability is by far the most valuable growth any leader can find. Growth can also be found in winning new market entrants; cross selling penetration to existing customers; launching  innovative products and services or premium pricing of scarce products.  Other profitable ways to grow your business include driving demand of premium and unique products, where your business has or can create a competitive advantage.
Like to learn more about creating growth for your business, then get in touch with us through the links below.
Cowden Consulting provides Strategic Planning Workshops which enable owners to create their vision of what they want to achieve. Our SPW faciliated workshops provide the opportunity for owners to work on their business not in their business. To learn more about Strategic Planning Workshops (SPW’s) or contact us by clicking Cowden Consulting to discuss your needs, or go to our website www.cowdenconsulting.com to learn more about us.
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strategy, leadership and vision in business by Steve Jobs

Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever

Values must be transparent

The way you provide your product or service and to whom, says more about you than how much business you do. Being big in a highly segmented world is no longer the determination of success. How you do your business now determines your current credibility and future success. Credibility is as much about your values in becoming successful as about the success you have. Mohamed Al-Fayed for example, despite buying Harrods, never shook off questions about his background.

Your values as an organisation as demonstrated by everyone inside your organisation matter to both existing and potential customers in choosing to do business with you. People have choices and they can now exercise them more freely than ever before, and that means customers can access information instantly to make choices that are more informed. Ikea’s staff misinforming undercover Times reporters about their sustainable and certified sourced products at a number of shops are one symptom of Ikea’s rapid growth boardroom culture.

Values Must Live the Moment

Almost everything in life is in real-time and instantly communicated to circles of influence and beyond. A restaurant having  bad night can have a poor reputation before the starter has even been cleared away as customers post live feed back to sites such as Qype or Trip Advisor . Therefore, before the waiter, maitre d’ or chef knows what’s happening the world outside already does by Twitter and Facebook and are cancelling their reservations in their droves.

Why clean lavatories matter?

The old adage that if you want to know how clean the restaurant kitchen is, inspect the lavatories, because they tell you how the restaurant values cleanliness, is a great example of modern customer awareness. Do you live your values or just post them on your website? Is the question customers want to know in establishing and experiencing trust with you and your brand.

Rail companies learning fast

The recent story of the man on the train talking too loudly causing enraged customers to Tweet  complaints about his behaviour which was picked up by a duty manager hundreds of miles away who then contacted staff on the train to track down the loud caller and asked him to quieted down.
This story is very much testimony to the growing demands of customer expectations, immediate online response, not waiting for passing train staff to react. This story is part of the reputation shift that train companies are actively pursuing.
The values that a business lives really matter to customers and to the brand reputation. Learn more about strategy and how to build yours in your business, click here or on the book below.
Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay

Strategy: The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay

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Taking strategic action to improve your business startup success

Where Does Tomorrow’s Business Growth Come From?

Where does tomorrow’s business growth come from?

Business growth is not an accident. Why some businesses succeed and others do not is not by chance. Busienss growth requires leadership to plan out where they are going within there market.  All markets change through both evolution and revolution (think of those disruptive players in any market and the impact they have.)  This slideshow explains why it is important for leadership to use business planning tools to effectively plan their growth.

In every market there is always new opportunities always arising. Markets do not go up (or down) equally. Some segments and individual customers grow faster than others due to their strategic or tactical successes. Knowing where external and or internal market factors are influencing or driving segments within any market is the vital strategic insight which leadership teams need to understand.  Even markets declining do not do so at equal rates. Change happens in every market so knowing where to look for positive changes within any market is a key skill for leaders to learn.

Being successful in business is all about seeing the bigger picture and understanding future growth. For a business to grow and develop, the leadership team must invest time building it. That requires the leadership to step back from the day-to-day operations of the business and focus on working on the business. Like to learn more, click the slide presentation below to learn successful leaders work on their business to find growth.

Where does tomorrow’s growth come from by Richard Gourlay Leadership must think strategically if it is to be successful in growing its business.

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Direction strategy and leadership

Strategic Planning Workshop

Strategic Planning Workshop

Strategic planning is the process of defining your business’s key priorities as a business. Successful business’s have clear priorities which their business as a whole unit focuses on to achieve. Each of these key priorities are defined within a business as a strategy. A strategy, a course of action which will deliver a pre-determined business goal.

Successful business planning is about developing your strategic plan for your business based upon proven business development tools. The Strategic Planning Workshop pulls these together into a single process. This process takes the guesswork out of your business success.

Reducing Risk: Maximising Opportunity

Taking the guess work out of your business success is a step-by-step process which develops business owners skills to strategically plan their business.  Good strategic planning enables businesses to take advantage of emerging markets, emerging trends, develop and launch new products. Strategic planning also enables companies to make structurally improvements to their business to improve its profitability, reduce costs and enhance productivity.

Strategic planning workshop is a proven method of developing and implementing success see www.cowdenconsulting.com.

Strategy: Leadership Skills

Strategic planning creates a clear direction for a business take. Working on your business, not just another day in it, crating a sense of direction, for the whole team to take. Working on your business, from developing your WHY (Simon Sinek, the power of why) through to creating a strong sense of purpose and direction. Where you are going and why is a powerful outcome from a s strategic planning workshop.

Secondly for leaders the ability to discuss their personals goals and ambitions in an environment which allows open discussion and development of those linked to their business is a real focus for personal leadership skill development.

The third leadership outcome from a  strategic planning workshop is the forward plan of where the business is going. That creating of a clear focus supported by detailed action plans moves the whole team forward as one.

Slideshare of Strategic Planning Workshop

Click the link below to begin the slideshow to learn the fundamental skills and how to undertake a strategic planning workshop.

Strategic Planning Workshop from Richard Gourlay
Strategic Planning Workshop
Like to learn more about what a strategic planning workshop delivers to business owners in creating growth, focus and direction then get in touch  and learn more. Enquries@cowdencosnulting.com or click Cowden Consulting Strategy.

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Leadership is all about VISION

Leadership IS all about Vision

Successful leadership is about having a clear vision.  A vision is a is a mental picture of what you want your business to be at some point in the future. It is a realistic aspiration. That vision gives a business a clear focus and a long-term direction, and it can stop a business heading in the wrong direction.

Great leadership is about planning your business using business planning tools to match their ambitions to the opportunities in their market. Without a vision, businesses often fall into short-term annual plan, rather than long-term sustainable entities.

Creating a Vision

Successful business owners step back to work on their business not in their business. Looking at where they are going and why. A vision is an essential element in a leaders toolkit in communication with all stakeholders and employees. It is about being more than just a product or turnover. A good vision must combine not only an aspiration but elude to the values of the business.

Good visions also aspire to where the business will provide value to customers in the future. What are the opportunities within your market and sector over the next few years. Business Planning is a process of assessing options using tried and tested business planning tools, which provide robust and accurate options for business owners to grow their business successful.

Leadership is all about VISION from Richard Gourlay

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Richard Gourlay Cowden Consulting

A good business starts with the end in mind: have clear objectives.

A good business starts with the end in mind: have clear business objectives.

For leadership teams planning a business is focused around the annual exercise of business planning.  Reviewing what went well and what did not, reviewing the overall performance of the organisation, its profits (or losses) and deciding what to do differently and what to keep the same for the forthcoming year.
One key area which good leadership teams consistently get right is in rolling out the right measures, both soft and hard measures of performance inside a business plan. Cascading business plan objectives down to department and down to personal performance objectives are the vital element in implementing a business plan successfully. The key ones include refreshing the vision and connecting clear objectives and soft and hard metrics together to all levels of the organisation.

Vision

Having a vision is vital to be successful in the long term, but having objectives will ensure you get you there. Clear milestones for everyone inside your company, top to bottom are the essential component of a successful company. Every successful company has clear goals, strategic ones the outrageous ones (global domination) through to achievable tactical objectives.

Without clear (SMART, see below) objectives a company will loose focus on its goals. Poor or non-specific objectives companies can fall victim to strategic drift, this month’s whim and next month’s quick idea.  The failure to cascaded objectives at every level allows good people’s morale and confidence to fall. This is because they cannot see where how they are contributing to the company’s success. Everyone should know how they contribute to the business plan’s success. Failing to set clear objectives in a business plan creates a path to failure in execution and devalues the process of business planning and it becomes a waste of paper, time and effort.

Objectives

Objectives should be like a pyramid, with the big objectives at the top, but at every layer underneath there should be the sub objectives that make the bigger one happen. A well run organisation should therefore look like a pyramid, in terms of objectives, with everyone working on their goals which build up together to achieve the big picture goals. This form of management managing by objectives MBO, (not to be confused with a management buy-out MBO), allows people to focus on their objectives, which are aligned to higher goals.
Try not to have too many objectives to achieve. I always recommend no more than 5 per person. The reason why 5? Because it keeps people focused and not drowned in statistics. Even at the company level remember the old KISS concept of simplicity, if you have page after page of objectives some will suffer unless you can resource them. Focus on what really matters to the business, what drives performance and how are they made up. For people think about their Key Performance Indicators, KPI’s they are doing a good job if… Classical KPI’s usually include: revenue, margin, customer numbers, retention, growth, production, saving, are amongst the most common.

Setting Objectives

High performance companies often drive all their goals by setting team objectives which are then broken down into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each individual employee. Try not to give any individual or manager too many. An easy way to achieve that is to ensure they can remember and recall them with ease when you meet them.

The benefits of setting objectives:

1.       Objectives define the entire purpose of your business (or unit) in a couple of sentences or bullet points or set of numbers.
2.       Objectives are often identified as key performance indicators at the individual persons performance.
3.       The objectives that you set determine the quality of the strategy or tactics that you will adopt.
4.       Goals allow leaders to Manage By Objectives MBO. This avoids time in argument and also helps in introducing a more participative management culture where employees are encouraged to set their own objectives.
5.       Clear KPI’s per person is a successful way to evaluate performance as long as the KPI’s are numerate or translatable into a numerate language.
Remember SMART criteria to define attributes of good objectives:
That is:
·         Specific
·         Measurable
·         Achievable
·         Realistic
·         Timely
 SMART criteria include:
1.       Both short range and long range targets should be set.
2.       Both quantitative and qualitative
3.       Clear. Put them in writing, to be achieved within a specified time frame.
4.       Measurable. So that they can be compared with actual results.
5.       Challenging. This is so that staff will put greater effort and be more motivated.
6.       Achievable. Avoid overly optimistic goals as this might be counter productive due to their demotivating nature.
Goals should be realistic, reasonable, reachable and beatable. Avoid hidden goals and don’t be over specific.
Hope that gets you thinking? Want to learn more then contact us or click here 

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Strategic Business planning

The TOP TWELVE Business Planning Mistakes

The TOP TWELVE Business Planning Mistakes

 
Business planning is often talked about as a challenging process to go through.  Both to start a new business, or as the essential process of taking ownership of an existing business. Many business plans fail to achieve their objective, not because they represent a bad idea but because they fall into classic business planning pitfalls or fall over blinding obvious credibility cliffs.
 

The business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile pursuit, they take a lot of effort and resource. A business plan’s primary purpose is to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, most typically in securing funding. 

What makes a good business plan is less clearly defined.

Always remember that a business plan needs to be tailored to its target audience. If you have different audiences you will need to be able to flex your plan to that audiences specific needs. That means shaping it, edit it and amending it to achieve your objective.

 
If you would like to know how to avoid these top ten pitfalls and credibility cliff edges then click on the subject titles which are links at any time to see my step-by-step videos on how to avoid these pitfalls and credibility cliff edges.
 
#business #planning #errors and how to #plan your #busienss #successfully by Richard Gourlay

Business planning is a vital activity for any business to succeed.

 
Here’s the top twelve business planning mistakes I come across most frequently:-
 

1. Lack of Viable Opportunity

Every business plan needs to describe the opportunity in detail. It must also detail how that opportunity can, and will by this plan, be exploited profitably, effectively and successfully.  A good business plan can visualise the opportunity and articulate the company’s ability to reach a viable opportunity, this is a credibility cliff.
 
Tomorrow is a difficult place to plan for, but being able to identify and make that opportunity viable is the most critical test any business plan has. It is also the most common reason they fail. Your executive summary and the wider plan describes the viability of the opportunity in terms such as:-
 
  1. What is the problem which people  will pay to have solved?
  2. Does your solution solve this issue for a specific target market?
  3. Why would someone buy your solution over someone else’s?
  4. Why are the benefits of your offering so compelling?
  5. Can you reach that target market with a compelling message quickly and directly?
 

2. Unbelievable / Unsupported Financial Numbers 

Where any assessment of a business starts and often finishes is at the numbers, specifically on the projected Income Statement or Profit & Loss. Projections are just that, but they are vital and must be based upon clearly stated assumptions. Many business plans are written with numbers which just do not stand up even to a first glance.
 
Dream numbers: in overestimating income and understating costs.
 
Your numbers have to make sense and be realistic, if you are a new start-up then they must grow rationally from nothing, but costs will be incurred before turnover is generated, these need to be realised and recognised in your financials.
 
 The financials must also make sense and be presented in a format which presents a clear case for the investment and the return you will deliver. Ultimately, they need to be credible, defensible and consistent.
 

3. No Accessible Route(s) to Market

 All opportunities are only prospective ones without evidence that the target market can be accessed profitably, this is a big cliff to fall over. 

Entrepreneurs are inherently product focused, concentrating their energies on ‘the winning idea’ to the exclusion of many other important elements such as how they intend to access their customer base, a classic cliff edge for any plan.
 
“Built and they will come” is a great dream but a poor plan.
 
A business plan must include a comprehensive, credible and costed analysis of how the company is going to access their target market in a cost effective manner. Too many plans focus on the product not the market opportunity, they focus on teh solution not the problem they are solving.
 
For that to happen your plan needs to really understand the target customers, their needs, and purchasing priorities. Turning historical data into information and drawing knowledge from it ascertain insight into their future purchasing habits. Only then can you demonstrate cost effective routes to market within a business plan.
 
 

 4. Executive Summaries Which Aren’t

Somewhere between a pitfall and a cliff edge, is the failure of the Executive Summary, to be either a summary or aimed at executives. The only part of any plan that will certainly be read is the Executive Summary and yet they rarely provide an effective summary of the business plan. A good plan highlights the key proposition of the plan and sells the proposal.
Too many Executive Summaries either throw everything down in a jumbled mess, making them pages long and randomly pulling facts together, or they are so bland they say nothing!What’s a good Executive Summary, one that states the proposition clearly and succinctly, a page is sufficient for any plan.
The Executive Summary should clearly explain the whole picture including what investment is required and what it will deliver. The point of an Executive Summary is to inform the executives, so many it punchy, outcome focused and only ever write it at the end.

5. Over Estimating Turnover  

Another associated key element of the plan which relates to this element is the estimations of projected turnover.
 
While every business plan talks in positive terms (hopefully).  The obvious and persistent danger is that the innate optimism of all entrepreneurs and their tendency to exaggerate every business opportunity. If you have no established routes to market then you need to identify the start-up period within your turnover and cost model. This has major implications for cashflow and on where investment will be needed.  Experienced investors will expect that you have taken into account. 
 
This pitfall is most easily managed using a realistic method for estimating income is to calculate the number of customers the business intends to capture and the average revenues. These two averaged inputs are easier to calculate and also to justify within a business plan.
 

6. Absence of Clear Objectives 

I could have put this pitfall at number one very easily. What is the main purpose of the plan? 

If the plan’s objective is to seek funding then it is vitally important to clearly describe the investment opportunity. While the plan describes the concept in detail, it must also address the primary purpose of the plan. So many plans fail to make it explicitly clear what the company’s needs to be successful or what the investment will mean to the company.
 
A good business plan answers the following key business planning questions:
  1. Why investors should investing in this business rather than anywhere else?
  2. When will they recoup their initial investment and how and when it can be realised?
  3. What is their expected return on investment?
  4. How the company has managed all aspects of risk? 
  5. Is the investment merely cash or do they need to bring other assets such as expertise to the table?
If you can answer these key questions, the intended audience will feel comfortable and be able to recognise that they fit the brief.
 
 

7. Non-Existent Cashflow Management

Particularly relevant to a new business, this is often an invisible cliff edge which business plans fall over on, is the ability of the business to articulate the differences between cash and profit. Running out of cash is the highest risk any new business or re-engineered business faces.
 
Good, positive, and conservative cash flow management is vital when businesses pursue investment opportunities where there are significant cash flows out, in advance of the cash flows coming in. This is the classic business plan cliff, which sends potential investors running.
 
If a business plan’s financial model is based upon selling on credit, then they receive the cash in the future, but need cask to pay expenses before that income hits their account, then they have a cashflow risk. This outflow of cash is the single biggest reason companies fail, its not margin, its rarely the product, it is invariably that they run out of cash.
 
 

8. Non existent Management Teams

Throwing a few CV’s into a business plan does not create a delivery team. Likewise a generic organisational chart with missing pieces and To Be Confirmed (TBC) is not going to inspire confidence  with investors to part with their cash.

Entrepreneurs can often sell an idea but they do not always inspire they can select a balanced team of people with the right skill mix, from the financial management to key leadership roles and the right operational team to deliver your ambitious plan.

Having a structured management team with operational structures is essential for success. Track records matter, as much as having clear roles and responsibilities laid out in delivering the operational plan which underpins the business plan.

9. Poor Evidence of Demand

A significant area of concern when planning is justifying the sales forecast or demand levels for a product or service. This breaks down into the two main elements used in forecasting: the use of historical facts and the dependency of subjective assessment.
 
Sales forecasting, is the vital tool to identify the basis of all projected revenue figures that can be considered credible in the wider context of the plan. Unless there is verifiable demand for the idea, the risks grow out of all proportion, particularly if the initial start-up or investment costs are high.
  
Minimising risk in a business plan is all about gaining an understanding the potential demand and how the company will with this plan create or drive that demand rather than concentrate on ‘the product or the idea’. This classic cliff edge is a silent killer for investors, they don’t believe in it.
 

10. Gaping Inconsistencies

An effective business plan needs to be consistent throughout as all the various strands are brought together into one single entity, the plan. It is pitfall which entrepreneurs gloss over, but investors relentlessly prod before committing to any plan.
 
If there are multiple authors of the plan the risks of inconsistencies will exponentially increase. Extrapolating data can also cause problems, using research data and then jumping from possible market size to sales potential and then sales forecast are classic pitfalls which need to be thought through.
 
Presenters of the plan must have a simple narrative that runs through their plan, using key facts and staying ‘on script’ so as to ensure that a cohesive story is communicated. The numbers must also be consistent with the broader content so that there are no contradictions between them.
 
 

11. Not Appreciating the Competition 

There is always competition. Yet the number of times the phrase “there are  no competitors” appears in plans is considerable.
 
It does not matter how unique the proposition is there will also be some other business competing for people’s money. While there may not be a direct competitor it will certainly be a transfer investment that customers will be making. The business plan must recognise where the customers invest is coming from. If competitors are not identified in a business plan then the only credible assessment is that the company has not been diligent enough in its research.
 
Also remember that no company lives in a vacuum, as soon as you launch (or before) the marketplace will change. What will the competitive landscape look like in a few days, weeks, months or years?  Can you create or establish significant barriers to entry for likely competition.  Otherwise it is likely that a successful market entry will be followed by better-placed competitors with greater resources, etc
 

12. Throwing Your Plan Out Too Soon

You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.Your plan needs to be right the first time and the content needs to be accurate, clear, concise and correct.
 
More often than not business plans need to be completed by a certain date and hence the final stages can be rushed, a classic pitfall.
 
Consequently, in many instances the final output does not do justice to the plan. Attention to detail at the end is vital, so ensure you have a completed plan with references and formatted correctly. Also ensure the content of the plan has been edited down to a digestible size, use appendices for details.
 
Get someone removed from the process to proof the plan. If a presentation is part of the process, it should reflect the Executive Summary.
 
 

In Summary The Top 12 Business Planning Mistakes are caused by:-

Business plans by definition have a purpose of communicating a course of action so make sure they do that primary role. Support inevitably means resources with the primary aim of the plan often being to secure financial investment. Explain what the investment will be used for and how it will be protected from these classic pitfalls.
 
Writing a successful business plan is all about preparation, about being as thorough in your research and planning as is possible. By avoiding the cliff edges and pitfalls above, the chances of the plan objectives being met increase substantially.
 
If you would like to know how to avoid these classic business planning pitfalls then why not click through to my step-by-step video: How To Take The Guess Work Out of Your Business Success, click here. Or read more about strategic planning and business planning in my blog, click here.

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