Executives Find Value in Their People

Every good company starts with good people. It is the caliber of the work force that ultimately provides a valuable product or service to the customer.

In the ever changing work force model, it has become increasingly difficult for executives to staff their teams with the right skills and experience. These qualities are important, but the right balance of skills, experience, and behaviors really drive the optimal group dynamics for a successful team.

James Caan (CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw) talks about the importance of a balance “A Team” in his article, The Importance of Creating an ATeam. He talks about how it is important to create the right dynamics on the team – recognizing that behaviors and personality types are important to recognize and balance. For example, a leadership team of Type A personalities could use some emotional and disciplined characteristics.

Overall, people are not easy to figure out. Recruiting efforts remain more difficult than before. As Executives, if we focus on a leadership team that has the right balance of hard and soft skills – we are in a better position to provide value to our customers.

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Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

As executives, we often find ourselves with many challenges, priorities, and pressing decisions. Our employees and companies rely on us for our experience and ability to make decisions. As leaders this is our value (#ExecValue) we bring to our stakeholders.

We need to determine which decisions to make and how to prioritize these decisions to satisfy our teams. One model that I have found works really well is to think of these priorities as either “Rocks, Pebbles, or Sand”.

Consider the following scenario….you have a large container, 3 large rocks, 6 cups of sand, and a bag of pebbles. The challenge is to fill the container with all of the supplies. The trick is that you have to put them in the container in the right order. If you put the sand and the pebbles in first – the container will get 3/4 of the way full and there would be no room for the rocks. But, if you put the rocks in first – they take up the space at the bottom. As you layer in the pebbles, they begin to fill in the space between the rocks. Lastly, as you pour in the sand – it fills all of the remaining space from the bottom to the top of the container.

The idea here is that the 3 rocks are the most important aspects of this challenge. The smaller pebbles and sand are important to the larger solution, but are not the priority. Just like in business, it is the 2-3 “big rocks” that need to be addressed first. They set the foundation and clear the way for the other lower priority items.

So, look for ways to identify and execute on the 2-3 “big rocks”….first. Try to constrain yourself to 2-3 high priority items. If you have time, start to work through the pebbles and sand, but consider delegating, delaying, or ignoring some of these smaller, less important tasks. They are mostly not relevant to your stakeholders and don’t provide you with the value needed!

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Executive Tough Decisions -Apple Maps

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As Executives, we continue to face difficult decisions on how to best position our products and services in the marketplace. We take risks. We challenge our team. We look at factors such as timing and demand. If we get it right, we are heros – if not…well we have a mess to clean up.

Recently, Apple released its new iOS 6 which included a new version of Apple’s Map program. Moreover, it replaced a superior Google Maps application. Attached is a recent letter from Apple CEO, Tim Cook:

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook Apple’s CEO

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Customer Value vs Customer Service

Customer value and customer service are two completely different things.

Value is something that is earned. It is identified by the customer and in most cases is not expected. Service is applied or provided to the customer. It is expected and is sought out.

Lets look at two classic examples: a financial advisor selling you his services and a waiter in a diner selling you their product. A financial advisor knows you have options in financial institutions and advisor services. The advisor’s job is sell you on the value of the service they provide…in essence convincing you that there is value for you. A typical financial advisor may take a percentage point off your asset’s net worth. This could be thousands of dollars annually. In order for you to select this service, you must identify the personal value it brings. On the other hand, the waiter provides you with product via good customer service. It is the service and the product that makes you have a good experience and want to come back.

In both of these cases, brand is also important, but at different times in the process. In the case of the financial advisor, you probably would not engage with the institution unless it had a good brand. In the case of the diner, brand is important, but it is earned through the customer’s experience.

As executives, we want our customers to see value (#ExecValue) in our actions. If it is through an established product, a service experience, or a sales call. Value is established through personal relationship building, good influencing behaviors, and an interesting sales pitch.

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Providing Chrome-Level Value

As someone that grew up on Mozilla and Netscape Navigator, I never thought there would be a time when a single web browser would dominate the market. In the late 90′s, it happened. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer crushed the browser competition by holding almost 2 thirds of the market. At that point, I knew Gates had won. The race was over. Big MS won the browser game.

Then, I had hope. Small players like Opera and Safari entered the mix. They tried to compete, but corporate standards relied on Microsoft for everything – even their browsers.

But as executives have seen the value of moving their business into the cloud, corporate browser standards have become lax. In addition, more executives are seeing value and are moving to open source tools and non-Microsoft based computing platforms. This is allowing players that have stuck around in the marathon to begin to really compete. In a recent Business Insider article, Chrome Overtakes IE as Most Popular Browser, Seth Fiegerman points out that Google’s Chrome browser has finally surpassed Microsoft’s IE as the most popular browser. This is huge for the computing industry and for executives to feel more confident in making some non-popular changes to increase company value.

As I write this, I wonder if Mark Andresen is watching this trend emerge…enjoying every minute of it…and investing in the company that will soon surpass Google for the most popular internet browser. Mark A – call your buddy Mark Z over at Facebook and ask for a deal on shares!

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Executives are Crucial in Avoiding Portfolio, Program, and Project ‘Malpractice’

As Executives, we need to consistently look to add Value in many areas of the business.  As we look to sponsor and support large scale portfolios and programs, we must remember that we play a crucial, non-passive role in driving the overall project.

A recent whitepaper was published that describes how Executives, project teams, and business governing organizations are mutally accountable for overall program success. 

The whitepaper, Raise Project-Management Maturity and End PPM Malpractice was written by a respected collegue of mine – Michael Vinje who is a Principal at Trissential, a consulting firm focused on business improvement.  In this whitepaper, he notes that, “…Executives will discover that collaboration, information, prioritization, and best practices lead to consistent results [in portfolio, program, and project success]“.  He makes the point that most organizations tend to focus on the project teams and the governing bodies being responsible for delivery of projects, but notes that the C-Level Executives are critical to the overall success of the project.  He closes the article with a summary statement, noting “…executives and their PPM teams will discover for themselves the importance of mature governance and mature project management to on-time, on-budget, and fully operational implementations.”

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Do EXECuTIVES VALuE Healthcare

We talk about Value that Executives provide to their customers. We tend to highlight when Executives go above and beyond or out on a limb and take a risk that provides true Value to their customers. From time to time, certain critics like to focus on challenges that Executives make while trying to provide Value. What we do not often see is examples of tough decisions that Executive have to make as a means to operating their business. Many of these decisions are regulatory or table stakes to business operations.

In this post, we will focus on the tough decision of Executives providing Value through decisions in corporate healthcare. Lets start by stepping back in time. It was not too long ago that corporations did not have the pressure that they have today to provide competetive healthcare options to employees. This paradime has shifted from employees seeking positions, titles, power, and pay to a job market where employees expect competetive, complete employment packages. Employees used to be thankful to have a job and now they tend to demand a job. This mindshift has escalated the importance of using differentiators during the employment hiring process – with one of the biggest items being corporate benefits.

Back in the 90′s we experienced the ‘dot-com’ boom. There were new companies popping up everywhere and providing Value-added services for free. This added to the overall mindset of corporate culture, in that they could make demands of their employer at low to no costs.

So Executives did what they do best….they gave their customers what they wanted. In this case their customers were their employees and what they gave them was great benefits at low to no cost. There was a time in the late 90′s where some Executives were giving their employees free dry cleaning delivery services. More importantly, Executives were practically giving away health care coverage to their employees.

So, let us fast forward to the current century, specifically 2005-2010. All of those companies that were giving away free services in the late 90′s are now defunct or are struggling to stay afloat. Remember Lycos, AOL, or NetZero? The same is true for corporate healthcare. The price of healthcare rose and these Executives had no option but to pass these costs on to employees. What was practically free – now is expensive and is at the expense of the customer (aka the Executive’s employees). In a recent article by Lisa Gillespie titled AS COST INCREASES STABILIZE, EMPLOYERS REMAIN AGGRESSIVE ABOUT HEALTH CARE COST-CUTTING, she writes about how “total health care costs per employee are expected to rise 5.9% to $11,664 in 2012, compared to 5.4% ($10,982) in 2011.”

There are two main issues with this scenario….first we are talking required health benefits. The is a big difference between getting a connection to the internet for free for 6 months and then having to pay $50-60 month for spotty service (er..Comcast) and paying practically nothing for a serious health condition for years and then having to fork out large sums of money to cover a ‘pre-existing’ condition. The second issue is that these companies are trying to re-coop prior losses on a service that has become increasingly more expensive. This business model never works. Cash is king and revenue and profit is all that matters. And what is worse is that monopolies have formed (ie United Healthcare, BCBS) that work the numbers between risk and premiums so that more profit is available with less coverage.

This is serious stuff and it all started with Executives placing a low Value on the cost of healthcare. Consider these two short stories as prime examples. An African American, retired single mother of three lost everything in the unfortunate Katrina hurricanes. She was forced to drive to Houston, Tx and fill out piles of paperwork to get her basic healthcare and other benefits. She had nothing….no car, no friends, no ability to read or understand the paperwork. If it wasn’t for a good person that offered to help her where would she be? In another example, how many injured vets are returning from the Gulf war as heros? What do we do when they want simple medical benefits….we send them to the VA hospital and ask them to wait for 45-60 minutes to be treated. They can’t go to the local clinic without paying out of pocket. These are our heros!

As Executives, we need to focus on Value for our customers, while understanding the implications of our actions. We need to lead our customers to the best solutions at the right cost – this is true value. We need to always remember that there is a “U” in both “EXECuTIVE” and “VALuE” and that our customers only care about themselves and how Executives decisions impact them.

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ROWE, ROWE, ROWE Your Boat….Anywhere but to Work

When we talk of value, we usually talk about direct benefit that our clients and customer obtain. We, as executives, sometimes miss the value we can bring to our staff that in turn provides end-state value to our customers.

In a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article Smashing the Clock, Michelle Conlin chronicals how Best Buy implemented an endevor they call ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) to the staff in their Minnesota based corporate office. The philosophy behind the move was to acknowledge that physical presence does not equate to higher productivity. The goal was to focus on outputs, instead of hours logged.

In 2007, 4,000 Best Buy employees were on ROWE – saving staff time, increasing employee satisfaction and productivity (upwards of 35%), and ultimately bringing a better, cheaper service to Best Buy’s customers. In turn, ROWE has made it’s way into Best Buy’s recruiting pitch and helps attract the high performing talent.

This story defines Executive Value. It is a movement that is supported and sponsored by executive leadership. It defines real risk taking and provides great reward – in the form of end user value.

As Best Buy looks to take ROWE to their retail stores, the corporate executives will be truely tested. If the risk works out as planned, the end value returned will define Best Buy’s future and serve as a model for the retail industry.

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