Archive for 2011

Talent by the Slice

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Troy Schrock

In our current business environment, businesses face mounting pressure to master a broad range of specialized knowledge in order to succeed.  Such knowledge is not limited to the specific technical areas in which they deliver their services; it also covers the administrative and management functions – financial, strategic, talent management, back office technology, legal, etc. 

Most small and midsize organizations cannot afford to master all of these areas of specialized knowledge with internal staff – at least not full-time.  Not only is the initial cost of training high, but the ongoing investment required to keep all those different resources up to speed in their particular area of specialized knowledge is cost-prohibitive for most organizations.  Therefore, it’s not surprising to see a proliferation in outsourced services, including payroll, benefits administration, staffing, IT, etc.  Many companies have grown quite large by providing these specialized services to other businesses. 

No less surprising is the increase in organizations buying talent by the slice – hiring consultants or advisors.  Some areas of specialized expertise do not require high volumes of repetitive activities or transactions (such as payroll or benefits processing).  Into these areas step veteran knowledge workers who prefer to work independently, spread their expertise over more than one organization, and networks with other individuals who possess similar or complementary expertise.  By hiring such an advisor on an as-needed basis, a small to midsize organization can afford a level of expertise that they could not afford full-time. 

This “talent by the slice” trend is likely to continue for three reasons:

  1. The competitive pressure on organizations continues to increase.
  2. The fragmentation and specialization of knowledge continues to increase, and the rapid advancement of this knowledge requires a great deal of continuous learning. 
  3. The number of qualified individuals who want to work independently is increasing.  This is largely fueled by the Baby Boomer demographic.  They want to remain engaged in business with greater time flexibility, they have years of expertise that can benefit others, and in many cases, their personal financial situations require them to continue generating income.  Serving clients as advisors is a way for them to fill each of these needs. 

Preview: Is Financial Performance a Core Culture?

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

The following is an excerpt from an article by CEO Advantage advisor Ellen Bryson.  The full article is scheduled to appear in the upcoming 4th edition of The CEO Advantage Journal. 

While there is no “right” purpose, I suspect there is a wrong one: financial performance.  When growth becomes your purpose, trouble is not far away.  McDonald’s discovered this in the late 1990s when they shifted their focus from “QSCV” (quality, service, cleanliness, and value) to building more restaurants.  By early 2000, McDonald’s had more than 28,000 restaurants with annual revenues in excess of $15 billion.  Two years later, they experienced their first quarterly loss since 1954. 

Starbucks had a similar experience.  In Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz shares how Starbucks lost its focus.  In effect, growth became their purpose.  Schultz says that financial growth is not a strategy; it’s a tactic.  He admits that when Starbucks began pursuing undisciplined growth as a strategy, their culture crumbled and they lost their way.  Ironically, the financial performance they were pursuing eluded them when it became their chief focus. 

 …In their book The Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema talk about three distinct operational models: customer intimacy, innovation, and operational excellence.  In my experience as an advisor to CEOs and executive teams, I have seen each of these manifested as the driving force of culture.  I have never seen a thriving company with a culture centered on its own financial performance ahead of serving the customer.  Is financial performance important?  Of course!  But it is the result, not the cause, of serving customers well.


Two Perils of Success

Friday, October 7th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

Great leaders must be constantly aware of threats to their endeavor, and this does not stop when success is achieved.  Success can lead to either overcautiousness or overconfidence, and both are dangerous.

Overcautiousness results in paranoia.  The pioneer does not want to mess anything up, so he chooses to ride the current wave of success.  Unfortunately, when the wave inevitably runs its course, he crashes with it.

Overconfidence results in blindness.  The organization overreaches, extending beyond its resources and strengths, thereby putting itself in a vulnerable position.  In trying to succeed too quickly, the organization is overcome by challenges bigger than it is equipped to handle.

Beware each of these perils.  Those tempted to sit still must find the courage to act!  Failure is always a possibility, but the only thing that guarantees failure is fear of failure.  Mistakes due to inaction often engender regrets greater than those due to wrong actions.

Those tempted to ignore their weaknesses must open their eyes and face the reality of their situation. It is not just action, but disciplined action that separates the best from the rest.


In 100 Words: Increasing Knowledge Retention

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

I love to learn; thus, I love to read. But when scanning a previously read book, I’m often surprised at how little of it I remember. I forget far more than I retain.

Perhaps we would all do well to re-read our old books rather than buy new ones. Reinforcing good thinking and disciplines is important to sustaining performance. Don’t let new packaging fool you into thinking there is much new wisdom out there. Most “new” material is simply old knowledge presented with different labels and examples.

Choose a classic, and read it again as if it’s the first time.

“Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.”  (Samuel Johnson)

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The Power of Persistence

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

In May 2009, I had the pleasure of attending a Maximum Impact simulcast, which included an interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In my notes from that interview, I wrote the following:

3 Qualities of People at the Top Level of Any Organization:

  1. Self-belief
  2. Hard worker
  3. Able to rise from failure

That last one caught my attention. Who has not failed at something? Whatever achievement one pursues, obstacles are as sure as the sun rising. How people respond to obstacles is what sets the great ones apart.

I think the key ingredient to rising from failure is persistence – the stubborn will to keep pressing. (Click here for my previous blog on “pressing the initiative.”) Great businesses respond to failure by following the advice from the old song: “pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again.” That’s good advice whether “starting over” means starting from scratch or just making a tweak. The point is to not stand idle. If you just keep churning with the best decisions you can make, odds are that your efforts will eventually bear fruit – and it’s likely that future yields won’t be as difficult as the first.

Ironically, failure is often just as likely to come from success – or more specifically, from resting in success. Pioneers such as Wang Labs, Alta Vista, and Rio’s MP3 player are largely unknown to us today, but the products they created live on in Hewlett Packard, Google, and Apple’s iPod. These pioneers died not because their products failed, but because they failed to persist in the efforts that make them successful in the first place. Their innovative competitors quickly passed them by and took over the market.

Whether you have succeeded or failed, you must persist in your endeavor to be great. There is no silver bullet. Great achievements result from hard work over the long term.


In 100 Words: Two Perils of Success

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

Success can lead to either overcautiousness or overconfidence.  Both are dangerous.

Overcautiousness results in paranoia.  To avoid messing anything up, one chooses to ride the current wave of success.  Unfortunately, when the wave inevitably crests, he crashes with it.  Overconfidence results in blindness.  When an organization tries to succeed too quickly, it may be overcome by challenges larger than it can handle.

Beware each of these perils.  Those tempted to sit still must find the courage to act!  Those tempted to ignore their weaknesses must face reality.  It’s not action, but disciplined action that separates the best from the rest.

Click here to have “In 100 Words” delivered straight to your inbox twice each quarter!