Friday, 18 July 2014

How a Strong Culture Improves Your ROI with New Recruits

How a Strong Culture Improves Your ROI with New Recruits
How Strong Is Your Business Culture?
Over the last couple of weeks I've had a number of discussions about how to integrate new people into a business, or "onboarding" as the Americans term it.  Where discussions got interesting was how a business’s culture or lack of it, influenced the speed with which new staff became integrated.

So how does culture influence post recruitment integration and what else if anything will have an impact? My experience with high performing businesses has confirmed the importance of culture in the process. The reason for this is that taking on new staff can be seen as the key battleground between the existing culture of the business and the culture of the new hire. The stronger the business culture then the more influence it will have and either the new hire will integrate quickly or leave.  Those with a strong culture will quickly show new starters that they will not be able to change or modify the culture. This can be seen most obviously in the military where new recruits have no input at all and must submit completely to the prevailing culture.

Those, however, with a weaker cultural tradition will have greater difficulties in getting new hires to conform, resulting in increased costs of integration and greater disruption to the business as new hires continue to argue their corner.  This is because those businesses with a weaker cultural tradition will have greater difficulty in persuading a new hire to conform to the way they do things, mainly because they don’t have clear processes or a strong philosophical underpinning as to why things are done in a particular way. Faced with inconsistencies and often contradictory assertions of the recruiting business a new hire with a strong personality may be able to readily persuade existing staff members that they have a better way. This state of affairs can easily upset existing settled staff who were happily doing things the “old way”.

Nevertheless, culture on its own will not do the job, although it helps by clarifying your approach. Just as important, however, is having a good description of not only "why we do the things this way" but also "how we do things here". I describe it as the big colouring book for your business. You might call it an operations manual or a knowledge bank. Whatever you call it having a written process is infinitely better than a verbal explanation.

There are two key reasons for this, first people tend to argue less if something is written down. It gives the words a level of gravitas that is seldom achieved with the spoken word. Second, is it allows the new staff member to try things out without the same high level of reliance on, interaction with, and consequent disruption of existing staff when you are reliant on verbal communication.
If, therefore, you are embarking on, or are indeed in, a period of high growth the strength of your cultural values and your ability to create a written operational manual will be significant factors in integration of new people and therefore your ability to maintain your growth.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

How Sub Contractors Can Steal Your Profit

Its very common these days to sub contract some services on the grounds that it frees your time and enables you concentrate on developing your business. Whilst this is true and often very helpful, one should always "do the maths" to see if the extra time and convenience is not outweighed by the transfer of your profits to the subcontractor.

Here are three examples from three different businesses that illustrate this issue nicely.

how sub contractors can steal your profit

Case 1 A business outsources some key components of a contract resulting in the subcontractor billing an amount equal to 50% of the subcontracting company's total monthly turnover for three consecutive months. The results for the period were, turnover up by 50% but profit down by 98%.

Case 2 A services business employed a team of subcontractors to  undertake some high level consultancy. This was a 6 month contract which made a respectable £282,000 profit. Employing equivalent staff for the same contract, however, would have delivered a profit of £452,000

Case 3 A construction business hired a subcontractor with specialist machinery at £1900 per day. Purchasing the same machinery under finance would cost £1300 per month.

In my experience in dealing with high growth companies these situations are by no means exceptional and illustrate nicely the risks of subcontracting without "doing the maths". Why do these situations arise? There seems to be two main answers firstly the subcontracting business doesn't understand the financial implications of its decisions. Secondly and perhaps more surprising is the worry about the financial commitment of taking on extra people.

Understanding the financial situation is of course "doing the maths". Often this is no more complicated that calculating the cost of subcontracting  against the cost of doing it yourself. The problem for many is they don't have any current financial information on their business. Consequently decisions are driven by the need to find resources without looking at the longer term implications. "Doing the maths" should indicate when it becomes more profitable to do it yourself. This cross over point is often sooner than one might think; for example in case 3 if the business could use that subcontracted machinery for as little as three days per month it becomes cheaper to employ a person and buy (on finance) the machinery rather than subcontract.

The inertia around taking on staff is an altogether more significant. A lot of this is to do with peoples expectations of the future and for the past few years its been rather cautious if not pessimistic. Despite clear signs that we are emerging from the economic doldrums many business owners hold very conservative views about the future. Consequently they are very reluctant to take on more staff. Part of this is because they don't have a clear view of the future trends and demand and what that means for their business.

Those business owners who have processes and systems in place to peer into the fog of the future will gain extra advantage over their competition because they will able to access information which will give the insight into what is going to happen in the future and have more confidence in the benefits of recruiting additional staff.

For the rest the convenience of and inertia of moving employing subcontractors will provide them with the illusion of additional flexibility whilst exporting the potential profit of additional work from themselves to their sub contractors.

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Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Does Spending More On Marketing Equal More Success ?

There is no doubt that many surveys show that an increase in marketing spend leads to an increase in growth. However there seems to be only a limited correlation. Take this statistic for example; if we compare at High Growth businesses (defined as growing at 20%+pa for 2 years or more) with average growth companies we get a radically different picture. The figures collated from a recent survey on High Growth businesses by Hinge Marketing is that an average business, that is one that grows at less than 20% per annum, spends about 5.1% of its turnover on marketing. At the top end of average businesses marketing spend can be as much as 12% of sales. The average of the high growth firms surveyed showed their average spend was 4.9% of sales. Slightly lower than the median for the average business! A bit of a surprise given that they are growing up to 5 times faster than the top spenders of the average business and spending much less on marketing.

That leads to the obvious question. Why? In short its to do with how High Growth businesses address their market. For one thing they are much more focused on meeting clients needs than the average business. For another they have a much clearer understanding of who they were selling to and what their needs are. Basically these high growth businesses have recognised more than the average business, that their clients and prospects are only interested in themselves and concentrated on answering two questions: 

What problem do I solve for my customer?
Why should my customers buy from me rather than my competitors?

These High Growth businesses seemed to have recognised two things. Firstly that customers are selfish and are really only interested on what suppliers can do to help them overcome their own problems. Secondly High Growth businesses have spent a considerable amount of time and effort answering the question why me? 

High Growth Businesses Spend Less on MarketingThis really sets them apart. In a recent workshop I asked the 20 or so participants to answer the question “why should my customers buy from me rather than my competitors?” and without exception they all struggled. Some actually admitted they couldn't answer it at all. 

This was further demonstrated when the same survey rate the elevator pitch. They asked each CEO to give us their brief elevator pitch. They then rated their response on a 5-point scale based on three criteria:

1) Clarity of the firm’s capabilities and purpose
2) Clarity of the target market
3) Articulation of the firm’s competitive advantage

High Growth businesses scored an average of 72.7%
Average growth businesses scored an average of 45.2%

What this signifies is that successful sales and marketing has more to do with the clarity and uniqueness of your proposition than the size of your wallet.

To get a full copy of the report from Hinge Marketing go here

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Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What Do High Growth Businesses Do Differently?

Percent Symbols - Best Percentage Growth or In...
That’s a question that most of us find intriguing because we all want to know the secret of success. Many business owners I know, whom others might consider successful, are themselves a little nervous as they don’t really understand why they got to where they are now. Their problem, obviously, is that if they don't understand why they got there in the first place; they won’t know what to do if things go wrong.

You might have noticed that more recently I have been focusing on ambitious business owners that are seeking to rapidly grow their business. These High Growth businesses provide us with some valuable insights about how to be successful. A recent survey of High Growth businesses in the USA by Hinge Marketing concluded that there were 4 things that high growth businesses do differently from others, which contributed to their growth.

1. They focus on delivering client’s desired outcomes. They were not touting the firm’s qualifications or their products or service strengths but rather what the results were of providing their product or services and what it meant to the client. This idea of focusing on outcomes makes them much more likely to deliver as they have their eyes on the prize.

2. They are truly customer focused; their job is to make the client’s life easier. You won’t hear complaints about customer attitude or how clients are making their life difficult. They see a problem with a customer as an opportunity for them to improve. Some businesses are actually disappointed if they don’t get negative feedback from their clients as it doesn't give them the opportunity to further improve their business.

3. They are flexible. They recognise how much, both prospects and clients, value flexibility and very many high growth businesses feature flexibility in their marketing and sales material.

4. They focus on their reputation. They work very hard at promoting and protecting their reputation and their brand.

There is a 5th thing that High Growth businesses do, or rather and interestingly what they don’t do and that is spend excessive amounts on marketing. Surprisingly, High Growth businesses spend slightly less than the average business on marketing. You'd intuitively expect that High Growth businesses (in this case growing @ 20% plus pa over 2 years) would be spending disproportionately more. However the survey indicated that these " High Growth " businesses spent only 4.9% of their revenues on marketing as opposed to 5.1% for the average business.

This leads to the obvious question; how do they do that? Whilst I have no empirical evidence I can anecdotally, at least, support this finding. If I look at those High Growth businesses I've worked with virtually all of them spent much less on marketing than you’d expect. Having looked into this further it seems to me that many High Growth businesses have accidentally locked on to something which fits the market demands better than the competition and the clarity of their proposition has got prospects pounding at their door. 

I can think of two obvious examples; one a construction business that is currently experiencing an 80%pa growth over this year and forecasting similar next with no marketing spend at all. In fact they are receiving so many enquiries that they are hard pressed to respond at all.  Looking at it for the first time you might even think that their sales process was broken. Yet despite all of that their growth is and continues to be phenomenal. Why, "word of mouth". They will move heaven and earth to get things right first time. This attitude marks them out from their competition and keeps both existing and new customers approaching them for proposals.

The second is a services business which has landed several strategic contracts with some very high profile companies in the UK, with no formal sales function and more startlingly having no one with any formal sales training. Its success once again appears purely based on what it can deliver and “word of mouth” from a couple of existing clients.

What I find interesting is that the results of this report suggest that a business’s success has much more to do with how well they had thought through why and how they deliver their product or service and their value proposition and much less to do with the size of their wallet.

For a full download of the Hinge Marketing report click here.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Time To Review Your Value Proposition.

We can at last say with some confidence that we are seeing some "green shoots of recovery". Recent figures have indicated an acceleration in growth and this points towards a more buoyant economy. Let's not get carried away as we are still operating at levels below the pre 2008 crash. Nevertheless, the supply side of the economy is optimistic that interest in its products and services and hopefully sales will increase next year, as potential  buyers at last dip into their cash hoardings and start investing in their businesses.

A direct consequence of this improvement in sentiment is that many companies will gear up their sales machines in anticipation of improved demand. Collectively that means increased competition for sales.

Also, as buyers start to loosen the purse strings, their years in a very tight market will have changed their perceptions of what is important to them and their expectations of their suppliers and their solutions. This means that your product or service may no longer fit the market as well as it once did. As a result the value you bring to your market may be reduced resulting in a poorer take up of your services and offering your competitors a chance to get ahead.
Identifying your Unique Value Proposition
Identifying your Unique Value Proposition (Photo credit: Intern. Forum Of Visual Practitioners

New entrants into the market will also be seeking ways to differentiate their product to better reflect buyers changing needs. All these pressures should lead you to the conclusion that you need to review your value. More explicitly you should be reconsidering your value proposition and testing its relevance to a changing market.

Your Value Proposition

Your value proposition is a short statement which explains to your target audience what problem you solve and why they should buy it from you instead of your competition. What is different about your solution or offering compared to your competition. It is sometimes called an elevator pitch or positioning statement. However you want to describe it, now is the time to give it a review.

It's easy to become a little blasé about your value proposition after all you know and love your product. Your target market doesn't have the same attachment and will go after what they want and will not hesitate to ignore you if you no longer meet their needs.

I remember listening to an interview with Jack Nicklaus where he said every year at the beginning of the golf season he would go to his coach and go through the basics of his grip, his stance and his swing in minute detail to make sure that he hadn't picked up any bad habits that might affect his future performance.  Taking that analogy forward we should regularly review our value proposition to ensure its relevance.

Your Value Proposition Components

Lets just remind ourselves what should be included in our value proposition.

What is our target market? Has this changed? Is our market bigger or smaller than before?

What is the current problem we are solving for our target market? Is it an important consideration for customers in our market? For those of you who don’t have a formal value proposition, start with the biggest issue customers have with your industry and see if you address this. If your product or solution is less important to your market than previously, then you’ll have a tough time selling it.

What are we offering? Is it a new product or service? Can we explain it easily?

What is different about our solution? At this point many people talk about a unique selling point. For most businesses finding something that is unique is almost impossible. What you want to isolate is what you do differently or what additional capability you have, that will make them buy from you rather than your competition.

Which brings me to the last point what alternatives are there to what you offer? Why is your offering superior to the competitions? What is the Return on Investment from adopting your solution?

By asking yourselves these questions you should get a good understanding of changes in the market and how that might affect your value proposition. You may be affected by such things as changes in legislation, new products entering the market or your industry being more interested in other problems. Unless you answer these questions, you may well find your value proposition increasingly irrelevant at a time when your target market will be more active than it has been for years.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

How Poor Recruitment Kills High Growth

Recruiting is often overlooked as a major limiting factor to sustaining high growth, but it is often at this hurdle that high growth businesses fall over. To meet the growing needs of your business you will have to be successful in recruiting and retaining staff. In order to achieve this you will need to consider two critical factors. 

How poor recruitment affects high growth
Poor integration of new hires is an unnecessary drag on growth
Firstly, that you have an effective recruitment process and secondly, how quickly you can assimilate new employees into the business.This post recruitment activity is a fundamental driver to sustaining high growth. Get it wrong, or do it poorly and you'll struggle to sustain any sort of growth at all.

This article is not intending to go into detail about the processes you may want to adopt but rather to highlight the implications of getting it wrong. The two issues we're looking at are recruiting the wrong people and the impact of not being able to integrate them into your business, and how these factors if not addressed act as a stall on growth.

The Recruitment Process

Firstly, as the title indicates, you should a have a process. Not a hand crafted set of actions but a repeatable process. This, amongst other things gives you consistency and quality control. When recruiting you should consider two things, how well the candidate will fit into your organisation and their capability or skills to do the job. 

I deliberately put fit first; if you are growing fast and taking people on you don't want them to be antagonising the rest of the team, you want them to fit right in. Only after you are confident of their fit should you investigate their capability.  Getting fit right first will increase the speed with which they are assimilated into the business, the quicker this happens the more staff you can recruit before they create a drag on your business.

Integrating New Recruits into the Business

Once recruited you should consider how quickly you can integrate this new recruit into your business. I think we would all accept that there is a period after you take on a new employee where they act as a drag on your resources rather than contributing to it. This is normally seen as on the job training. How effective you are in bringing new employees up to speed and integrating them into your business will determine the rate with which you can recruit to support growth. So like recruiting you need a post recruitment integration process

The two key factors in a post recruitment process are training and a culture process, which is about the alignment of values.  

If you have no post recruitment process or, more politely, an informal one, it will take you a long time to get returns from your new recruit. Typically you'll see a lot of frustration in the business as the new employee is largely left to their own devices and the necessary training comes in fits and starts with little or no coherence. This makes it more difficult for the new starter to:
1) learn enough about his job to be a net contributor to the business; and
2) integrate into the company, that is absorb and identify with the companies aims and culture. 

The consequences are often:

1) the new hire leaves because they've become disillusioned with your company (what a waste of time and effort) 
2) your existing staff see taking on new staff as a chore and therefore don't put in the effort they should, often resulting in the new employee becoming disillusioned and leaving. 

Even if they stay, the whole process has been unsatisfactory for everybody and will have inevitably consumed more resources that it should and taken much longer that it needed to. In a high growth environment it simply leads to an unacceptable drag on growth.

The culture process or alignment of values is equally, if not more important than the training. It's crucial to get new staff who share the businesses' cultural values.

I'm sure at this point there are some of you are scratching your head at the moment and are saying to themselves but I'm only looking to recruit 1 or 2 people a year; what's the problem? My answer is that whilst the numbers are low a new recruit will most likely be a member of a small team. This is where being a small number works against you. Think of the recruit as a percentage of your workforce; if it's 5 a new recruit represents about 20% and if its 10 its 10%. Now image the damage to your business if 20% of your workforce were not engaged with the business. Worse still, what if that new recruit is actively trying to promote an entirely alien set of values to the rest of your team, think about the disruption then.

To mitigate against this problem your post recruitment process must include an amount of orientation about how you do things in your business and what is and what is not acceptable. It is inevitable that new recruits are going to question what you do and why you do it, either because they are likely to have come from a business that did things differently or because they are interested in how your business does things. Either way you need to have an answer.

At some time you will get a recruitment wrong, however if you don't have a recruitment or integration process you will make more mistakes and have created a lot more unnecessary problems for your business. 

If you would like to find out more us and how we can support your business, you can contact us via Exigent Consulting or Managing High Growth,  We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 8 November 2013

The High Growth Challenge

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Growing a business is a challenge in its own right, growing a business in an environment of  high growth is doubly difficult. To get an idea of just how difficult that is you only have to look at how few businesses manage to sustain high growth (20%pa) over say 4 years; and what a tiny percentage of those will achieve this state for a decade. So be under no illusion  sustaining high growth is a major challenge.

So what makes it so difficult? It is my contention that too many businesses focus on the wrong issue. In any business there are two basic components that need to grow together sales and the organisation. Sales is the easy bit. OK so thats a bit of an oversimplification. Growing sales is tough, how tough, depends to a significant degree on market growth. It is self evident that its harder to achieve high growth in a slow growing or even stagnant market compared to a market which is also in high growth. Some might even say that growing at 35% when your market is growing at 50% is actually under-performing. However too many so called growth experts focus on sales and marketing because thats the key driver. Absolutely true. What sustains high growth, however, is matching organisational growth to support sales growth and thats a whole different order of difficult.

Why is it so difficult? Firstly, because it involves managing multiple disciplines successfully not just one. Further these different functions have to, as far as possible, be kept in balance along the way. In addition the matching of organisation to sales has to be close enough to allow the business to make a profit sufficient to allow it to reinvest in maintaining growth. This is because for the most part businesses have to rely on their own cash generation to fund growth. There businesses that generate extra ordinary growth but this usually only possible because they have access to extra ordinary amounts of cash. Those cases aside it's up to the business owner to fund his own growth.

English: Hammer thrower Mike Mai practices at ...
English: Hammer thrower Mike Mai practices at Fort Lewis, July 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To illustrate this in a different way, let's use the analogy of a hammer thrower. At its basics you pick up the hammer rotate across the circle and hurl it into the distance. In reality it is a very technically demanding sport. The key to success is to remain in control even though your rotate faster and faster across the circle before launching the hammer into the distance. In order to be successful the hammer thrower needs to stay ahead of the hammer. This means that the hammer stays slightly behind the throwers rotation so that they retain control. If however the hammer gets ahead of the thrower then control switches immediately from the thrower to the hammer as they are in effect being pulled around by the hammer. The result is that the subsequent throw is out of control and either it crashes into the side netting or if by chance it does make the opening it has no great distance or direction. The problem for the hammer thrower is that if the hammer gets ahead of him it is impossible to slow the ball down a little bit to get back in control. Slowing down inevitably results in sufficient loss of momentum for the hammer to just falls to the ground. If we read sales growth for the hammer and organisational growth for the thrower we can see that if organisational growth falls behind sales growth the only way for the position to correct itself is for sales growth to slow. The problem is, that like the hammer falling to the floor, sales growth tends to stall completely.

7 principles of Managing High GrowthThis common occurrence is evidenced by what I call "shooting star" businesses that shine brightly, for a brief time  then disappear. These are businesses that grow very rapidly for a year or so but then the wheels come off management spends the next year to 18 months clearing up the mess. Significantly this experience is so painful that the business often makes a conscious decision to avoid high growth in the future.

Secondly, it requires a very broad range of business knowledge and expertise. Its something that few business owners are aware of, especially in the early stages when often they are struggling to make the mind shift from being an exponent of what they do to being the MD of a business that provides those products or services  Even if they are aware of it few business owners have thought about managing the impact of growth or assessing the interconnections between functions which accentuate both good and bad decisions. I've put them into seven areas. They are:

Vision, Culture, Strategy and Planning, Talent Management, Financial Management & Control, Business Processes and Business Development. The first are about leadership and infrastructure. The other 5 look at key business activities but will be much more effective if the infrastructure is in place. 

The challenge for a business in maintaining high growth is to grow the organisation consistently over time to match sales. In supporting businesses to understand and undertake this challenge in a knowledgeable way we are much more like to provide sustainable high growth businesses. 

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business.