If not NOW, then When?
A few years ago, my then-partner wrote a brilliant piece about how he crafts a proper strategy with a client and then rolls it out. Carefully, diligently and mindfully. Now, as a spectator, I assure you, it is a beautiful thing to watch unroll. You too can watch the business take off here and if you have not read it, I urge you to. Because I guarantee you will nod your head vigorously and explain THAT is precisely how it should be done. From the consultative process to the staggered rollout to the success-driven pieces. So many should follow his wisdom.
When? NOW would be the best time.
Of course, there are some of you who are probably saying “Yabut I am different; my business is different. No one can understand my business.” THAT is what I want to address today.
Because compared to my then partner, I have a different slant on life –the finance, operations and management side. Which I will share with you today — to buttress his comment about having many years of experience.
When I was 25, I set out to change the role of internal audit from one of compliance to one of profit finder. With the benefit of youth and education, I was in love with ideology and oblivious to form and function.
The General Manager of the subsidiary being audited and ultimately the receiver of my wisdom was not impressed with my many helpful suggestions. On the other hand, my boss ultimately put me on the fastest promotion track in the corporation. Funny thing, the General Manager was fired inside of twelve months for incompetence and I went on to enjoy a sterling career within an international organization.
My big lesson: learning comes from anywhere, anyone and at any age. Keep your eyes and ears open. Now and at all times.
When I was 40, I joined a laser eye surgery company in Toronto. The President, although impressed, was not sure where to put me. He decided to have me float around for a couple of weeks until the right spot “materialized” somewhere in operations.
I remember attending umpteen meetings. The sole purpose of the meetings was to discuss and dissect the competition. It appeared the new kid on the block competitor was interested in undercutting every single procedure we did, by waging a price war at every single turn. Moreover, the only way to fight, according to the players in this established, entirely Canadian, reasonably funded company, was to complain and grouse and worry and waste countless hours.
Finally, after about the fifteenth hour of useless discussion about the upstart entering the market, I said,” I do not understand what you are worried about. Competition is good for everyone. These guys are the bottom feeders, going after the folks who do not have the money. We are la crème de la crème. We serve two different markets and two different customers.
Let’s focus on our markets and customers. Let’s make sure our customer care representatives are trained the best, have the best messages and our customers have the best experience for the $5,000 per eyeball they are paying. No one can compete at $500 per eyeball. We just need to focus on, hype up and perfect the $5,000 experience.”
Everyone looked at me like I had five heads.
The next day, the President called me in and told me he had to let me go. Apparently, I did not fit in with the rest of the staff and it was vital to him that everyone got along.
Inside of nine months, the company was in financial trouble and sold out, at a bargain-basement price, to an American venture capital fund, who then fired every single Canadian employee including the president, and turned it into one of the meanest, and most profitable US-based companies that was ultimately gobbled up by an even meaner American.
My big lesson: never underestimate the power of the paralysis of fear. Now or ever.
When I was 51, I applied to be Chief Operating Officer of the second-largest camera retailer in Canada. What I did not have in retail experience I more than made up for in management experience and made a three-pronged proposal about how to make $5 million dollars stick to their bottom line. (I guessed at what the top-line sales numbers might be, had a rough idea what the operating margin was and knew how many employees they had. The rest was what we called scientific wild-assed guesses or SWAGS for short.)
The premise of my three-pronged approach for this private company was fairly straightforward: 1. Tighten up the purchasing power and processes (because that is where a lot of money is always wasted), 2. Examine the HR policies and implement a pay-for-performance standard which always has some amazingly excellent short-term high impact benefits, and, 3. Temporarily stop all discretionary spending for six months.
These are relatively tame and normal procedures to implement when companies are not doing well and allow a bit of breathing room for everyone to take stock.
The President liked the ideas very much and was all set to hire me. Unfortunately, his Purchasing Manager and HR manager did not share his enthusiasm and convinced him I would not fit in with the organization.
The President ended up hiring a Financial Manager to mind the ship and maintain the status quo. In less than two years, that Canadian company went bankrupt.
The big lessons I took away from that venture were be careful with three-person interviews and NOW be cautious about sharing the real truth behind profit impacts with weak senior management.
A few years ago, I had my kitchen re-designed and re-done professionally by a local business. (Originally started by grandfather, passed on to father and now reluctantly run by son.) The gig ended up costing me a couple extra thousand dollars because of poor execution on their part. I agreed to take ownership of ½ of the overage because I was the project manager. I also felt bad about not paying the bill because of his incompetence, so based on ten years of solid experience, I gave him five tips for better future scheduling of jobs which if he implemented would yield him $25,000 annually per tip.
He called me up, ranted about the $1,000 short-payment, told me he did not believe he needed help with his scheduling and accused me of failing to understand the industry norms of being late ALL the time.
I just heard he is in financial difficulty. I expect he will shutter his business in the next year or so. My big lesson NOW was not everyone wants to know about profit improvements. Receiving payment in full is often just as good as silence on operating issues that you don’t want to deal with.
Last March, I gave a keynote to a group of accountants. One lady had been unemployed for a good six months. I gave her some suggestions on getting out of unemployment. None of them involved finding a job and working for someone else. All of them meant stepping out and doing something different.
I received a Christmas card from her a few weeks ago. She is still unemployed; she has not changed her tactics in looking for that perfect job. My big lesson is I cannot help anybody now who will not reach for my outstretched hand.
Why I Am Sharing These Stories & My Learnings
My mantra is Change Your Thinking for the Better. I believe this with every ounce and fibre of my being.
But I also know from experience that changing your thinking seems to be bloody hard for so many. I totally do not understand that. You see, I change my thinking all the time. I do not see things quite like a lot of people do; I see things differently and have done so all my life.
While I understand that my ideas might seem scary and even I might seem scary, here is the funny thing. I do not conjure cockamamy ideas from thin air. As a matter of fact, I actually think ALL my ideas thru, marry them up with your strategy, figure out the risk attached to them AND then find ways to eliminate MOST of that risk. BEFORE I share them with you.
I have always believed that when we Canadians think the time is right for a change, we are right. The time IS right. However, our execution is often another thing. What always, always bites us in the ass is bad execution.
So go ahead. Be confident. Change your thinking. For the Better. If not NOW, then when?