Poor Company Performance? Work on Mastering Nuance

The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.

Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.

Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!

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The Best Organizations Have a Good Company Action Plan for the Future

How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?

Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.

These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.

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How The Best Company Builders Grow Their Teams

When I started my first company at age 26, I’ll admit, it was lonely. Even though we were only a team of six, there was a clear dividing line between me as founder and CEO, and my staff.

I learned how to pull in expert help, but I had a lingering feeling over the years that I took the business more seriously than anyone else on the team. Especially cash flow. And making payroll. Eventually I built a successful company, but not until hitting every pothole I could find. Hindsight is 20-20, but an executive-level leader alongside me would have spared so much pain.

This was my driving force to becoming an interim executive myself. Helping owners and founders to get over hurdles that, left to their own devices, would take years to master, and in many cases skills they didn’t otherwise need or enjoy. I focused on high growth tech companies, getting them to market and eventually for M&A events that would bring extraordinary returns to investors.

This is still what drives us today at InterimExecs: to empower companies to reach their full potential by building world-class leadership. Whatever it takes to accomplish projects, goals, growth initiatives, or in some cases fixing what’s broken.

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What Does Organizational Culture Mean?

Maintain a happy marriage. Live a healthy lifestyle. Surround yourself with good people. While every magazine headline and self-help book is throwing this advice at you, it’s just about as murky as telling companies to create a positive organizational culture. But just what does organizational culture actually mean?

In order to get a better handle on the specifics of organizational culture, I talked to John Childress, an executive advisor, keynote speaker, CEO, and board leader, whose latest book, “Culture Rules!: The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture and how to use them to create greater business success”, delves deeply into corporate culture, and why it is so important.

John bridged the gap from organizational culture as an abstract concept to a bottom-line issue by noting that,  “…organizational issues….turn into people issues that then turn into business problems.”

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The Collapse of Leadership in a Digital World

In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?

Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:

•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.

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The Six Times PE Funds Use Interim Executives

Many private equity funds hear the words “interim executive” and think the only application is turnaround or short-term fill-in. But for PE funds seeking a great return, they look to interims for their unique abilities to build and transform companies.

Here are six major use cases for interim executives in PE-owned portfolio companies:

Interim Executives in Diligence
Most funds hope to spread their wings – work beyond industries where they’ve already had success, by looking at new industries where acquisitions may cost less and produce higher returns. The further afield they go, the more they need expert leadership removed from prior operating teams.

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Business Owners Should Demand Action from Leadership

“Action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling.”
– William James

One of the biggest benefits business owners report when they take on fresh leadership, whether an interim or fractional executive is a sense of relief. Of having done the right thing. They report the feeling that someone else shouldered a burden that was becoming impossible. Just too large to handle alone, or with the current resources on hand.

The real reason behind this for all of us business owners is that the challenge is just too painful to deal with on our own. Whether it’s family dynamics, lack of future planning, or declining business, we get embroiled in the inertia of our organizations. Sometimes the pain is so vast, the only solution is to sell the company.

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It’s a big day in Helsingbord Sweden – opening day for the Museum of Failure, which features such items as Harley-Davidson perfume, Bic pens for women and Google Glass.

Failure can be very entertaining – when it hits someone else. For company leaders, failure is to be avoided at all costs.

And yet, so many company builders report that their success was achieved after a spectacular failure. You would think this leads to a lifelong lesson to embrace setbacks, but for most it doesn’t. We seem to be hardwired to avoid failure.

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Selling in a Few Years? Start Packaging Your Company Now

According to a Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for mergers and acquisitions sits between 70 and 90%. Even before the deal closes, it’s not uncommon for deals to unravel.

If the odds can be overwhelmingly negative, what can you do to increase your chance of success if you are looking to sell your business?

Prepare.

Don’t wait for the M&A process to begin to get your team in gear – that’s a sure fire way to fail.

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Interim executives, or interims, have recently become an important tool that organizations can use to effectively address a variety of pressing needs. Having said that, many companies are either unaware that interims are even available or appropriate for their current situation. The most common understanding of the role of an interim is to fill an immediate need in the executive team caused by a sudden voluntary or involuntary departure. In this case, a seasoned executive can step right in and allow the company to progress unabated. While much of what an interim does is similar to consulting, successful execution is critical and unique to the role of interims. This blog presents seven case studies to help companies better understand other instances where interims can help. There are certainly more examples, but these are representative. While seven represents everything from the apocalypse to luck in gambling, we’ll stick with seven.

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