Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneurship’

Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and no amount of hype and fashion-mania can eliminate that basic law of nature.

I’ve been reading (and rereading) books by Vaclav Smil. He’s a professor at University of Manitoba who is a world renowned expert on energy, energy flows, and modern industrial society. He analyzes claims about various industrial processes and energy conversions and uses in terms of their technicalities. More important, though, is that he highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options and practices. There is no “perfect” energy conversion or industrial process. All we have are positive effects and negative effects, cost and benefits, opportunities and risks.

This resembles the way I was trained to develop and assess tactical, operational, and strategic plans and manoeuvres in the Army. You first must know what your realistic options are. Then you develop them sufficiently to identify key advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, and opportunities and risks. There is no free lunch, much less a perfect option or plan.

If someone comes along telling you they’ve got the perfect solution or a cost-free alternative, you’re better to treat them as a snake oil salesman, because what they’re selling is akin to a perpetual motion machine.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

In the field of military strategy, it is well-known that the capacities to recognize changes in the environment and to react quickly thereto provide a considerable, if not essential advantage. The same capacities apply to business strategy.

I call these capacities strategic flexibility; they demand that one continually observe the environment in order make strategic corrections. Businesses that rest on their laurels or that ignore this need can be overtaken both by events and by their competitors.

This implies a quick, accurate method to make adjustments to strategy. Therefore, I propose a model of strategic flexibility I call the 7-M method. The method refers to the following: mission, market, mark targets, mass, manoeuvres, morale, and marketing. To these must be added the plan of action that successfully unites the efforts of stakeholders both upstream and downstream of the business in question.

  1. Mission is the distillation of what you offer the world and its value.  It’s what defines your unique competence and motivations and the needs you meet. A mission statement must communicate your intentions in a short, precise manner that can be understood by all concerned:  employees, customers, suppliers, and even competitors. The mission, therefore, serves as the guiding star for your business.
  2. Market represents the potential clients for your goods or services who might buy from you since you can meet their needs with good value in your products or services. Market include the target groups among your clients and their needs. Market also includes an analysis of current market suppliers and of the decision-making processes of potential customers in terms of their long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. This permits opportunities to be exploited and possible risks to be minimized or avoided.
  3. Mark targets provide concrete objectives that can be measured as part of your action plan. The ultimate target for your business constitutes your vision of where you want to be, say, in a year- and-a-half or two years hence. From this vision one can identify a hierarchy of goals, tasks, and results to be obtained.
  4. Mass refers to the most economical and effective ways of concentrating resources in order to meet goals as quickly as possible. This requires an analysis of your key strengths and weaknesses in order to permit success in your market.
  5. Manoeuvre refers to the operations according to the elements of the action plan including ensuring that the necessary tools and resources are available to permit successful operations. This includes the delegation of responsibilities such that people have sufficient margin of manoeuvre so they can respond successfully to opportunities and threats in the environment.
  6. Morale refers to the willingness of people to persevere in order to reach goals. While the welfare and the happiness of employees is important, it is not the be-all-and end-all of your business. Clear vision, mission, and plans are the key to good morale. As well, clear-headed analyses of risks to the execution of strategy and action plans along with contingency plans permit the prevention and minimization of possible risks to success.
  7. Marketing is the last, but certainly not the least part of flexible strategy. It requires clear messages of internal and external communication. There are three elements to a good marketing plan: general marketing vis-à-vis the overall brand and image of the company; marketing campaigns designed to meet customer needs within given geographical territories; plans for business development and sales that will permit successful, long-term and repeated relationships with customers that also will lead to establishing a solid reputation and possible new clients.

The action plan is the key to success because a vision without the required resources and concrete actions is only a hallucination. The essential elements of a good action plan include: a description of the situation being addressed such that readers will understand the purpose of the plan; the mission statement; detailed activity and resource plans; support and administrative requirements; internal and external communication plans; and the assigning of responsibilities to key personnel.

Obviously, doing all the above without the aid of an experienced expert in strategic and operational planning and leadership will be difficult. I invite you to contact me with your questions and suggestion of businesses and people that might benefit from application of the 7-M method. In the meantime, start with a description of your mission statement and an analysis of your potential markets; performing these steps alone should provide you with immediate benefits.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2016. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.

There was a movie that came out about ten or fifteen years ago called Changing Lanes, starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. The two main characters get in a feud over a silly thing that escalates into general mayhem for both, affecting their lives and their significant others. At one point, Jackson’s character is conferring with his AA sponsor (played by William Hurt), who tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s not just addicted to alcohol, he’s also addicted to chaos.

I’m not implying a link with alcohol or any other mind-altering substance, but I do think that many entrepreneurs and business owners are, quite frankly, addicted to chaos. This affects not only themselves, but also their relations with their families, friends, and business associates. It manifests as projects started and never finished, chasing too many rabbits at one time, inability to reach goals, failure to return calls, emails, text messages, jumping on the next management fad that will “fix” everything, etc., etc.

It’s comparable in many ways to well-known phenomenon of the “geographic cure,” to which addicts are prone. Wistfully: “If only (insert miracle cure), then everything will be perfect…”

Perhaps this comes from the fact that many entrepreneurs and business owners started out at the bottom, founded their companies, and had to learn to do everything themselves. Everything from ordering stationery to delivering products and services to clients. However, at some point, a growing company must “professionalize” and systematize processes and structures (not necessarily bureaucratizing though). Services and tasks that were originally done by passionate amateurs must be transferred to professionals who know what they’re doing so that the founder can concentrate on growing the business and expanding into new markets and activities.

Unfortunately, not all entrepreneurs and business owners seem capable of doing so. There are several factors at play, not the least of which is simple scarcity of capital to hire experts and invest in productivity. But, I also believe that the owner/entrepreneur has become so involved in the day-to-day minutia of running the business and working in it, that they don’t know, or don’t wish to, work on the business. They micro-manage and keep all the critical tasks and functions for themselves. In some instances, they actually become addicted to the adrenalin rush of constantly being in the front lines. They can’t let go and this quickly turns to chaotic management (or lack thereof).

I’ve noticed over the years that successful executives and owners who have made the transition to highly effective and efficient performance are extremely well organized. They know their strengths and limitations, focus on the former while compensating for the latter, usually by becoming associated in some way with experts who can take up the slack in vital areas that are not their best suit.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the chaotic management style of micro-managing entrepreneurs and owners translates to a lack of basic savoir faire and savoir vivre. Unreturned phone calls, unreachability, missed appointments, last minute scheduling changes, etc. A few years back, I sent my book to several CEOs of very large companies. In all cases, I got personal letters or emails back from them thanking me for the gift. You can set up an appointment with a successful executive or entrepreneur several months ahead of time and be sure they will be there when you show up for the meeting. If they can’t, they have their assistant contact you to reschedule. Why can’t the chaos-addicted managers and entrepreneurs do the same? Because they’re disorganized and living from second to second, minute to minute.

If you’re one of these chaotic business people, you need to do something about it. You must get better organized, starting by respecting the people around you, especially your business associates. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who can help you become, as Peter Drucker called it in his book of the same name, an “effective executive.” If you want to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible, you should contact me immediately!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Step 5 in the Battle Readiness Procedure we’ve been covering is Rehearsal and Preparation. The key to this step is to ensure everyone knows the plan and what role they have in it. Military leaders are taught to give their direction and plan using the SMESC format:

S–Situation: What is the friendly and enemy situation? What is the lay of the land, the climate and weather, etc?
M–Mission: What is the essential role of the team or organization in the higher unit’s plans?
E–Execution: How will the mission be achieved? What are all the moving parts, the tasks of each element, and the resources they have to achieve their part of the plan?
S–Support & Logistics: What are the special supply and logistical arrangements to support the overall plan, including personnel and medical support?
C–Command, Control & Communications: What is the chain of command and succession? Are there special communication and control measures (including codewords, etc)?

Rehearsals and practice runs are the key to ensuring everyone fully understands their own role(s) as well as those of others in the unit. There are many forms of practice and rehearsal, from “chalk talks,” to war games to full dress rehearsals to get all the parts of the machine synchronized and in full working order.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2014 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Brilliant Manoeuvre
Leaders must know when it’s time to lead from the front and when it’s time to let others take the reins.

German general Erwin Rommel was one of the most effective and respected commanders of World War II. He was renowned for leading from the front and knowing when it was time to exercise his influence and authority at the decisive point of battle. During the crossing of the Meuse River in 1940, he was at the front and realized that a window of opportunity had opened. Without dithering, he took command of two additional regiments from neighbouring divisions (he was commanding the 7th Panzer Division) in order to secure the river crossing and press the advantage of the German forces on the western bank of the river. During his command of Afrika Korps in North Africa, he was often caught behind enemy lines because he was so far forward. He would also fly over the battlefield to reconnoitre in his Storch plane. Both of these were necessary to stay in touch with the fluid manoeuvring in the desert, but they also demonstrate the risks that must be weighed to be effective in leadership. Rommel was willing to take those calculated risks because he wanted to be at the point of decision and exercise his leadership in person. All great military commanders have demonstrated this talent throughout history. The same applies in business. You have to know when and where to exercise your leadership. Leading from the front is needed to set the example, the tone, and the pace of an operation or project. On the other hand, once things are fully underway in the right manner, it is time to pass the baton to a trusted subordinate to continue with the project so the leader can focus his or her efforts on another strategic initiative.

A leader must be an example of professional competence, good conduct, and probity to earn the full respect, loyalty, and confidence of the people under his or her responsibility.

By the way…
My ideas are featured in today’s Globe and Mail: A military approach to business.

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Offensive action is applicable in all spheres of business: strategy, organizational change, continuous process improvement, sales and marketing, recruiting, public relations, crisis management, risk management, leadership development, succession, etc.

A common understanding of offense is that it’s all about attacking and taking an aggressive stance. This is true, but it’s much more than that. It’s a mindset that is centered on seizing and maintaining the initiative. If you’ve lost the initiative, or have given it up intentionally or unintentionally, whether you like it or not, you’re in a defensive posture. You must work to regain the initiative and get back on the offensive.

I’ve discussed this in great detail in my book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles. Last month we looked at how you can assess your own offensive posture and that of your competitors. This month, I’d like to look at how you can build an offensive mindset within your team or organization.

Common Understanding. Everyone in the company must understand its overall vision, mission, and objectives, and must know where and how they fit into the strategy and plan. They also need to know the vital role they play in achieving or supporting that mission. With this, they are in a position to apply their own initiative and reasoning to resolve the inevitable problems and dilemmas that arise as a result of friction, uncertainty, error, and competitors’ actions. It is critical that every level in the company develops and implements its own mission, vision, objectives and plans and implement them with a view to achieving the intent of the higher level of which they form a part. The technique to achieve this is known as ‘mission analysis,’ and the result is ‘mission command,’ the approach that empowers individuals to take initiative in the service of the organization’s ultimate strategy.

Mission Command. In the military, empowerment and initiative are known as ‘mission command.’ In a nutshell, mission command is about telling people WHAT to achieve and letting them figure out HOW to achieve it in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Even better is when the whole team participates in developing the WHAT part. If managers and employees know something to be true or right, and it fits within the stated objectives and strategy, they should be encouraged to use their initiative to exploit the opportunity, defend against the threat, or correct the mistake. This empowers individuals throughout the company to pursue ideas using their creativity and teamwork without having to get permission all the time. They can also adjust to a changing competitive situation without having to withdraw, start the planning process over, and launch a new attack. This speeds up decision-making and makes use of the brains and motivation of everyone involved to get to the objective.

Prudent Risk-taking. Acceptance of risk is the corollary of initiative and empowerment. You can’t expect people to make quick decisions and act upon them with speed and agility if they fear reprisals or punishment when the inevitable mistakes are made or when problems of execution occur. In a culture where risk is recognized and accepted, decisions will tend to be quicker and more effective than in an organization where everyone is covering their behind.

Build on Strength. We all tend to focus on our weaknesses and devote way too many resources in trying to correct them. This is a mistake, because lasting success only comes from identifying and reinforcing strengths. Strategically, this requires the company leadership to identify its centre of gravity. This is its unique source of differentiation and competitive power. There are generic centres of gravity (also known as driving forces), such as product-focus, market-focus, distribution, and method of sales, which I’ve written about before. For example, Apple is relentless about its product focus. Everything is about the excellence and uniqueness of the product experience. On the other hand, Amazon is obsessive about distribution. This is the company’s unique source of strength and competitiveness. Operationally, companies must also identify their unique strengths and develop them into powerful competitive advantages. Finally, at the tactical and personal levels, every team, every leader, and every employee must know what they do best and seek to get better and better at it over time. Constant improvement is greatly aided by a disciplined approach to lessons learned and after-action review, strong morale, and transformational leadership.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

Brilliant Manoeuvre
Leaders must seek a dynamic balance between their organizational goals, their strategies and plans, and the resources they can realistically assign to achieve them.

The executives of an urban transit service in a small city wanted to make major improvements to its service standards and to increase ridership. However, they determined they needed to invest in operational research to determine travel needs and patterns for commuters prior to making the much larger investments in upgraded infrastructure and new buses. In other words, they realized there was no point in making these moves until they identified capacity and population needs to balance ends, ways, and means.

Involve as many people as possible in the formulation of goals and plans in your team. However, do this through nested hierarchical planning, getting constituent elements focused on what they each need to do to fit into the bigger picture.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.