Archive for January 2011

When CEOs are too scared to fulfill their own vision – part 1

January 31, 2011

For those of you interested in business planning and strategy, I have just come across an informative, inspiring case study.

What is a vision? It’s not as mystical or out there as it sounds. A vision, quite simply, is a picture of what success will be at a particular time in the future. 

Ari Weinzweig set up a deli in the early1980s. Today, he employs 500 people in 8 different sectors, drawing in nearly $40million annually. And his recipe for success?

Complete the visioning process, and you’ll have a clearly articulated end for your organization—something that won’t change every time the market or your mood shifts.

Weinzweig’s description of how it takes a mere 30 minutes to complete most of the vision-making process is close to bizarre. So, why can’t most people follow his tried and consistent repeated recipe for success?

A few months ago, I helped to structure a deal, which stretched across continents. The contract was designed to secure European market entry over a few months for a small enterprise. Cool…..except that the CEO of the vendor in question did not see immediate results.

Our CEO felt that time and money was being invested, but dollars were not rolling into the bank account. At what was estimated to be half way into the set up process, our CEO pulled out.

It was their reasoning that annoyed me, which seemed polite but not very convincing. So, I prodded a bit to find out the whole story. Reading between the lines, you could almost hear the hidden shouts of anxiety, such as: –

  • If I do not succeed, what will people say?
  • If I succeed, will I keep control?
  • If I only partially succeed, is that really good enough?

I felt that the top executive was trying to convince themself: “If I put off important decisions, I may retract from my vision, but my life will become better?” 

We can call this thought process the “four ifs of self-perpetuating doom”. Convenient. Pride reestablished. No pain. And the brain is at ease.

Minor problem – no gain. Which side of the mind is our CEO listening to? 

And I see this time and again in mentoring. Earlier this week, I sat down with the owner of a small leisure business. “What should I do next?” I was asked several times by an anxious client and owner of a cash flow crisis.

By the end of the session, the client had made some phone calls, which she had put off for some days. She had created the structure for a new marketing team. And she had called one of her own customers.

She even looked pleased with her efforts. After all, she had made a major stride towards obtaining her goals.

Why had she not done all these things prior to our meet up? In fact, she had tried to introduce other tasks, which would have put off these decisions, just like our CEO. 

I can’t say for sure. But I do know that when she first realised what she had to do, there was an element of fear on her face. The “four ifs” were back again.

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Revolutions: Arab states and entrepreneurship

January 30, 2011

So the world is in shock. Few predicted the collective turmoil of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and maybe even Jordan and Algeria. After all, only last week, Israel’s head of military intelligence went on record saying that the Egyptian regime was in no danger of collapsing.

And why is the world scared? Usual stuff – the threat of cutting oil supplies that feed the power engines of modern industry. And some of these regimes have a lot of heavy weaponary that should not fall in to the wrong hands.

Amazingly, there are those like Senator John Kerry, who believe that if Israel was to make immediate concessions to the Palestinians, maybe the revolts will calm down or even go away. See his interview on the BBC from Davos.

Some sobering perspective was offered by Professor Bernard Lewis, who at 94 is still one of the world’s leading historians on the Middle East. Interviewed in the Hebrew press on Friday, he observed that the protesters are jealous of freedoms  – press, worship, women’s rights, votes for all – found in Israel.

So, it got me thinking, why has there been no uprising in Gaza? Is the Hamas grip on power that oppressive? Or is it that the economy is not as weak as made out in the world media?

Returning to the theme of Davos, much has been made in the discussions about promoting entrepreneurship, as a way to boost small or poor economies. 

….teaching young people living in poverty how to create wealth for themselves is the surest path to poverty alleviation.  More simply put, ownership equals prosperity.  And really how do we ensure inclusive economic growth – by opening the path to ownership to as many people as possible.

In Israel, entrepreneurship is part of the culture of society; a constant desire to find new solutions for economic, medical and environmental issues. And while many sectors need additional resources, education is available for all. It is a society of opportunity.

As for countries, which are members of the Arab League………….

Leadership skills – fascinating case study from Israel

January 27, 2011

From the top business schools to the extremes of the internet, we are flooded with material about what makes a good leader.

Be open. Listen. Appreciate those around you. Develop an ability to make decisions under stress. Hope you have the right biological make up? And who knows what else.

And every journalist loves it when a leading personality refers to ” a crisis of leadership“. I typed the phrase into google, and the first page brought responses from Eire, the USA, Nepal and Japan. I mean, would we know what a good leader is even if they were to walk into the room right now?

Pilots in the Israeli air force are considered a very elite sort of group; physically strong, educationally bright, with an ability to perform well under adverse conditions. They are never photographed face-on for security reasons. So, they don’t need any extra leadership skills, do they?

So, it came as a surprise to read in the Hebrew press of a new approach to training for the “lead” plane or helicopter in a squadron. The idea is to allow the pilot to act as the chief-of-the -airforce. It is a concept by a multipurpose team, consisting of former pilots, psychologists, sociologists and others.

Is that an anathema? Not necessarily. What happens if  pilot is able to use all, but all , the resources at his disposal? That means exploiting full knowledge of himself, of his plane, of his surroundings, and even the control tower.

A helicopter pilot in the article described a battle scene from Lebanon, when a discussion broke out whether or not to carry out a rescue mission. Meanwhile on the ground, the lives of soldiers were at risk, but there was no easy flight path in or out. The pilot took responsibility for the situation, assessing all known factors. (The mission was a success).

Not everyone can do that in every situation. However, there is a clear lesson from this study.

Empowering your colleagues (senior and junior) to learn and to initiate, through clear established lines of guidance, can lead to effective results for organisations.

Israeli high tech – what next?

January 24, 2011

Mobile tech, software, cleantech, nanotech, etc – Israel has played a leading role in all of these mini industrial revolutions. Israeli hightech accounts for over a third of the local economy’s output.

In the past year, some analysts have been wondering if this “boom” can last. After all, so few companies have gone on to become mega corporate commercial successes. Seed money appears to have dried up. Some export markets, particularly in Europe, have yet to fully emerge from the credit crisis, possibly threatening future growth.

There again, maybe the next chapter of the story will be more positive than ever. Over 50 Israeli companies took part in the recent World Mobile Congress. Intel is now looking to fill an additional 1,000 positions in the country, Celltick has announced plans for 100 new posts. Multinational based in Israel, such as IBM, are rushing to register patent.

These are not isolated islands of success. Only yesterday, Wells Fargo announced that it intended to raise its investing presence in Israel.

And a concrete illustration of what can be achieved was given by  “iwaymobile“, a start up led by an investor and a former mayor from a poor development town. After 3 years of quiet development work, iwaymobile has yesterday launched an internet system for cars. The geek websites are twittering the news all today.

If there is a bottom line in all of this, it probably focuses on the word “innovation”. Israel is a society that encourages people to think beyond problems. This means that in tandem with sensible montary and fiscal policies, the pioneers in hightech know that they can continue to progress safely.

The human body, weak economies and Israel

January 23, 2011

The human body is a complex item. Even today, we do not fully understand how the brain operates, and we are full of proteins that have yet to be identified. We are told that only 20% of everyday tablets like asprin ever reach the target spot.

Much the same can be said about national economies. They are nearly impossible to micro-manage. You have to treat all parts with respect and still keep monitoring just in case.

Greece, Ireland, Portugal and even Spain are classic examples of countries, which relied on the “good times never ending”. And there are fears that Belgium may join the list. The Economist has led a discussion of senior analystson the topic; even under a restructuring policy, some of these economies (and their citizens) have a lot more hardship to endure before they see happy days again. The doctors had failed

Why is the Israeli economy different?

Zvi Eckstein is the deputy governor of the Bank of Israel. Speaking at a conference in London earlier this month, he listed the strong points of the economy. These included: –

  • The strength of the high tech sector
  • Decreasing debt ratio
  • Controlled use of interest rates in monetary policy
  • High savings ratio

I would add to that the discovery of commercial quantities of gas. Let us be clear, this will not be available for selling for several years, and very little is suitable for the local market. What is of note is that the Israeli government has stood firm against obvious vested interests, and will levy taxes on the profits. The main beneficiary should be a cash-strapped local infrastructure.

Dangers still loom large. The shekel has appreciated to violently over the past year, partially as a result of speculators. Last week, the Bank of Israel counter attacked, issuing a series of measures ensuring greater accountability and transparency on large transactions. The result has been a 2.5% depreciation within a few days.

Israel has to accept that it has a strong economy. As such, investors are going to want to hold its currency, a major change from the previous 60 years. The managers – politicians and civil servants alike – will have to observe and guide the Israeli economy closely as it matures into manhood, just as they will look after their own individual health.

Choosing marketing content; Simple, ain’t it?

January 20, 2011

This week, I met up with three separate groups. One is a classic service provider. The second is establishing a sales campaign via the internet. The third is a very competent artisan. They all are based in Jerusalem, smothered by years of university education and are looking to ramp up sales.

I asked them what content they intended to use on their advertising space; flyers, websites, give-aways, and more. And the kind of responses that I received could be summed up by: “I want people to know how good I am at blah blah,” and off they ranted for another minute of explanations

Fair enough…until I followed up with 3 basic questions. Whatever your medium, whatever your font and colour: –

  • Who is your audience
  • What are they looking to hear 
  • What is going to make you stand out from your competition?

These are some of the basic parameters that will drive content formulation. Two people could not believe that they had missed these 101 guidelines. A third asked me why the view of the client was so important.

These days we are inundated with marketing experts.

They are called strategists, consultants, sales’ dynamos, social media experts, website optimizers and so the list goes on. Any senior manager, struggling to raise his revenue figures, cannot fail to miss these guys. Their blogs and podcasts and tweets are to be found in every dark corner of cyberspace.

So what are my clients missing? Despite being surrounded by information and suggestions and despite being exposed to a culture of commerce, they were using a marketing opportunity as a platform for their ego. In fact, selling is all about helping and enabling your potential customer to make the correct decision. 

Simple, ain’t it?

Ask your mentor: Is being moderate good enough?

January 18, 2011

As a business mentor, I come against this theme on a constant and regular basis.

I realise that the client is not progressing. I ask searching questions why they are holding themselves back. I can see them struggling to spurt out any answer, except for the one on the tip of their tongue. I prod a touch more. Silence. One more jab and……out comes the pain, sheepishly and quietly.

Basically, the client refuses to take the next step because they are afraid that it – the final product or service or whatever – will not be “good enough”. The outcome will be “OK” at best. They will be judged as MODERATE by customers and friends, and that just will not do.

I then look at the client. Some appear relieved to have finally “admitted their guilty thought in public”. Some are embarrassed. Some give me a quizzical face as if to say: “surely you feel the same way”.

So let’s consider why “it won’t do”.

From our earliest years, we are conditioned to do our best.  We must be excel. The implication is that any alternative is a disappointment and just not good enough. You simply end up being “moderate”, and you would not want that to happen, would you? And that is the mindset many of my clients carry forward into adult life and hang on their professional career.

How many of us received school reports that said that “you can do better”? The teacher was probably correct. But how many of us also received a parallel comment that said: “However, what has been achieved to date is also pretty good”? If only somebody had offered me that bit of hope.

Now, let’s revert back to my clients. I ask them to look around and show me something that is “excellent and perfect”; a piece of furniture, a cup of coffee, a piece of attire, anything. And of course, nothing can be found. I then ask them to point out something that is pretty good, and here there is no shortage of responses.

Then I pose my client a very simple question: While, I am sure that the creators of the furniture or drink or clothing are striving for excellence, is what they have achieved very good? Is it acceptable?

Ergo, just because you are not perfect does that make you moderate.

As a business coach, I would rephrase that statement. Sure, it is wise to strive to be the best, but you also have so much to offer your own customers who so are “very very good”. Is that being moderate? Who cares? Go and enjoy life without any false guilt trips.