The Value of Punctuality

The Value of Punctuality

As a mom and business owner I am hyper aware of the value of my time and the opportunity cost for any activity that takes away from time with my family or time providing for my family. So you can understand why I find it annoying when people are late, leave me waiting, or worse, forget about our meeting altogether. It seems as though punctuality isn’t as important as it used to be.

I know some of you are jumping to conclusions now. No, this is not an issue isolated to the millennial generation. I have been left waiting and stood up by people in all generations, with no noticeable concentration from a single generation. So it’s not an age issue. The issue is that, as a culture, we have succumbed to “busyness” syndrome and forgotten the value of punctuality and planning.

The Value of Punctuality

It Demonstrates and Earns Respect

When you show up on time for a meeting, it shows that you value and respect both your time and theirs. It shows that “I really want to work with you and will make you a priority and give you the time and attention you deserve.” If it’s a client, they will see it and feel it and give you their business.

It Demonstrates Trust

Being where you say you’re going to be when you say you’re going to be there shows dependability and builds trust. I want to do business with people I can trust. I won’t hand my money, time, or reputation over to someone I don’t trust.

It Makes You More Productive

Running late has a way of snowballing. If you’re late for your first meeting, chances are you’ll be late for the rest and either lose out on precious time or stretch your day out longer than you want.

It Makes You Less Stressed

If you’ve ever run late you’ve felt the stress and pressure to hurry. Not only is that dangerous when you’re behind the wheel, but in today’s world we have enough stress threatening our health. We don’t need to add to it.

It Makes You More Efficient

Efficiency is different from productivity. Efficiency is using fewer resources to do the same tasks. Productivity is what you get out of those tasks. Being punctual reduces the amount of time you spend stressing about running late rescheduling, apologizing, etc. You’re able to show up, get down to business, and direct your energy toward productive things.

Bottom line, being on time is good business. It demonstrates quality and care to the client or prospect, and puts you in charge of your day and what you do with it. Yes I know that there will be the occasional unforeseen circumstance—a car accident, a client who won’t stop talking, the dog runs away as you’re heading out the door, your teenage daughter is, well, being a teenager—we’ve all been there. But when being late becomes a habit instead of a rare occurrence we have a problem. Help me put a little social pressure out there. Let’s make punctuality trendy again.

Why Is Marketing So Undervalued By Leadership in Professional Services Firms?

Why Is Marketing So Undervalued By Leadership in Professional Services Firms?

About halfway through my career I shifted from technology and publishing into professional services. I love working with professional services firms and am so energized by the work that they do. But there are many things that surprise me about professional services, namely how undervalued and underfunded the marketing function is at many professional services firms. Marketers are quick to blame leadership and their lack of awareness and understanding, but is it really their fault?

The answer is yes, and no.

When it comes to undervaluing marketing, leadership and the marketers in those firms are equally to blame. Before I explain I want to say that there are many amazing professional services firms who value and actively invest in marketing and they are killing it as a result. However, there are many firms that are not and it is just one of the reasons why they are struggling to compete. In those firms both leadership and marketers are at fault for devaluing the marketing function. Here’s why.

Leadership’s Culpability

Leadership is to blame because they have actively chosen to operate from a position of ignorance and ego. Many of the leaders of the firm are technical professionals who have ascended the ranks into management. They are excellent at executing the work, and may even have some business development or operational skills. As a leader and decision maker of the firm, they have a responsibility to learn all the ways to grow and sustain a healthy business, but many have chosen to ignore their own professional development and haven’t learned about all elements of a successful business—primarily the value of investing in marketing. To them, if its not billable it doesn’t matter, and that’s a very narrow and flawed view of business.

The data to support marketing is abundant. Regardless of industry, studies have shown that firms that continue to invest in marketing, even in a downturn, will not only maintain market share during the recession, they will also see tremendous gains in market share and revenue once the market picks up again. Marketing is also critical as competition increases, client procurement habits change, and as clients and firm leaders move to retirement.

It’s important to note that many of the activities that professional services firms call “marketing” are in fact business development activities and not marketing. The recent article from Zweig highlights the point well, arguing that marketing is not proposal development, and although important, a firm needs to balance its proposal efforts with true marketing as well.

Marketing’s Culpability

Marketing’s fault comes from not thinking strategically, not tying marketing goals and activities to firm goals, and not demonstrating value. Marketers often fail to invest the time and effort into understanding the firm, their leaders, and how to secure buy-in and support. Many immediately give up and choose to be forever frustrated and blame leadership for “not getting it.” Granted there are some leaders who will never get it, but most are willing to learn and do what is necessary to compete. They just need to be shown how social media, email marketing, a new website, etc. translate into billable hours and bigger profits for the firm.

The marketers who are able to build departments and secure titles such as VP are the ones who have learned to provide strategic value and to connect and speak to their technical leaders in a way they understand and value. Complaining doesn’t change a person’s mind; it only makes them stop listening. Yet many marketers default into the blame game and complain about being held back, unvalued, and misunderstood instead of taking charge of the situation and learning how to influence, negotiate, pitch, and convert their leaders into fans of marketing.

Professional services firms in all industries, from finance to construction, are facing tremendous change and competition. Staying ahead and thriving in this climate requires a sound talent strategy, competitive advantage, customer-centered tactics, and a multi-disciplinary menu of services—all of which are influenced and supported by marketing.

For those firms who “don’t get it,” here’s my call to action:

Leaders, invest in learning about marketing best practices, study what the competition is doing, and tap into the knowledge and experience of your marketing team to help you pull away from the pack.

Marketers, take ownership for your career, learn what matters to your firm, speak leadership’s language, and earn a seat at the table.

Preventing and Treating Change Fatigue

Preventing and Treating Change Fatigue

Sometimes change is self-imposed, but most often organizations find themselves constantly in a “change or die” situation driven by pressures from globalization, technology, competition, ever changing markets, diverse workforces, and fluctuations in the availability and cost of resources. Whether its organizations new to change or those dealing with multiple or major changes, many will find themselves inevitably wearing down from the demands of the change effort. Known as “change fatigue,” this is the point where change efforts can die, people can quit, morale is low, and the whole ship loses steam.

An experienced change manager plans for the inevitable slump and builds in organizational supports to help the team through the difficult time, but even if you’ve already found your team suffering from change fatigue its not too late to put in place measures to help reinvigorate the team and the change effort. Here’s how.

Promote Wellness

Change requires peak performance. Your team is working hard so its critical to avoid burn out and fatigue by providing tools and support to promote the emotional, mental, and physical well being of your team. Yoga and meditation breaks, company sponsored lunch, an ice cream social, stipends for gym memberships, and other programs help support and reinforce the best practice of “help yourself before you help others.”

Celebrate Often

Don’t let a milestone or win pass by without celebrating it. People stop investing their time and energy when they feel like it isn’t appreciated or acknowledged. Say thank you and celebrate wins publicly either with a small ceremony, cake party, or other gesture. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be visible to the whole team and genuine.

Communicate Progress

People lose hope and drive when they can’t see their efforts having impact on what really matters. Keep track and report on progress. Even better, keep scorecards visible where anyone can see them, such as on a bulletin or dry erase board. Highlight the big metrics and milestones. This will help people see they are making a difference and energize them to catch up if they are falling behind. Like author Chris McChesnney says, “People play differently when they are keeping score.” Show them the score and encourage them to stay in the game.

Reality Check:

As I mentioned earlier sometimes the factors that create change fatigue are outside the control of the organization, but for some it’s their own damn fault. Self-imposed change fatigue can happen for two reasons:

Change for Change Sake: Some leaders have shiny object syndrome and are constantly tinkering with the organization, adopting every new fad and concept that comes through whether it’s strategically beneficial or not. Usually they want it done now and don’t give their team time to execute before pushing forth the next big endeavor. There is something to be said for not having too many balls in the air at one time, especially as quality and completion are concerned.

Too Much Change: We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t bite off more than you can chew.” It can be tempting to tackle the entire transformation in one fell swoop, but other times well structured steps and phases work better. Not only is it more manageable form both an execution and stakeholder management perspective, its also lets you set realistic expectations and not bog down the organization, especially if you are adding activities to the team’s current workload in order to complete the change effort.

When you haven’t yet reached the top of the mountain and still have a long journey ahead of you its easy to forget how far you’ve already come and become disheartened by the road and obstacles that still lay before you. As change agents we need to help our team see the progress they have made, celebrate every big step, and give them support and take care of them along the way.

The Productivity Paradox of Well-Run Meetings

The Productivity Paradox of Well-Run Meetings

The dreaded “M” word. It invokes visions of unwanted commitment, a loss of freedom, and life-sucking boredom draining all of your energy. No I’m not talking about marriage, but an equally fear-invoking word –meetings.

For many of us, meetings are a waste of time. A veritable black hole where nothing really happens and we must fight to stay awake. We often have no choice but to attend and scream in agony to the office gods to save us from this torture. Don’t blame the meeting. Blame the organizer.

If used correctly, meetings are a valuable business tool. In the wrong hands they are a waste of time, but if designed with focus and purpose and, most importantly, well managed, meetings are a productivity booster.

 

How Well-Run Meetings Boost Productivity

 

We will discuss best practices in a moment, but first lets look at how short, effective, regular (but not too regular) meetings have productivity boosting benefits:

They Establish Predictable Patterns

Recurring meetings that happen at a specific time weekly, monthly, or at other regular intervals create predictable patterns staff can use to plan their activities. If they know that specific meetings are for making certain decisions or for providing updates, they know when the decisions will be made and when items will be reviewed.

They Reinforce Accountability Measures

Group and one-on-one meetings both help to reinforce accountability for delivering information, work products, and demonstrating progress on projects. If people know they have to report on progress in front of others they will work harder to make sure they can report that real progress is occurring on their projects.

They Eliminate Excessive Emails and Drop Ins

If you set the standard that meetings are for addressing certain issues and teach your team to reserve questions, decisions, and updates for those times, then you will ease the burden on your inbox and work time.

They Force Prioritization

Another side effect of containing certain activities to meetings and restricting the length of those meetings is that your team will have to prioritize items and focus on only the most mission critical concerns and tasks.

 

Best Practices for Leveraging Meetings (And Not Letting Them Take Over)

When it Comes To Frequency and Duration, Less is More

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review showed that people spend nearly half their workweek in meetings, which is double the amount of time spent 50 years ago. Much of the increase in time is due to poor planning and management. Its better to opt for less meetings and shorter meetings with a hyper focused agenda and purpose.

I’m a fan of the 15-minute daily huddle paired with an hour long focused meeting once a week. The daily huddle is to take stock of what’s on your team’s plate, their top priorities for the day and what resources they need to tackle them. The weekly meeting is to check in on milestones and progress and identify needs, concerns, decisions, and resources. If you are the leader of a large team, you may need to have multiple huddles and meetings, each with different departments/functional units. Breaking it down by functions or departments allows you to keep the meeting short and focused. Cross-functional and/or company wide meetings should happen less frequently, such as monthly or quarterly.

Severely Limit Attendees

There’s nothing worse than being asked to sit in a meeting that has nothing to do with you, so be sure to only invite the people who absolutely need to be there. If possible, keep it to single digit numbers (3, 5, 8). Once groups grow above 10 it’s easy for sidebars and too many opinions to derail the meeting and eat up valuable time.

Always Have a Clear Agenda and Purpose and Stick With it

Come to the meeting with a prepared agenda and purpose and do not stray. If important items or ideas are brought up, park them in a repository for “next to address” items and topics for future meetings. This way people know they aren’t lost and will get their own time when it is appropriate, allowing them to refocus their attention to the current agenda items.

Take Sidebars and Debates Offline

This is where most meetings derail and take up more time than necessary. If a relevant side bar or debate between 2-3 people develops, encourage those involved to meet “offline” so everyone else isn’t left waiting and refocus the meeting on what needs to be accomplished there and then.

Summarize and Define Action Items Before Closing

Too often we walk out of meetings not knowing the purpose or what happened, if anything. Before closing summarize what was discussed, what decisions were made, and any action items and responsibilities. Send out a typed version of this to attendees within 24 hours.

Get Updates on Action Items Before the Next Meeting

A big mistake many make is waiting for the meeting to get updates on action items. It’s always best to check in half way between meetings to see how action items are progressing. This can be done in the 15 minute huddle or functional meetings and does not require its own meeting. Reinforcing accountability for action items before the meetings shows that people are expected to deliver at the meeting and ensures that the next meeting will focus on progress and next steps, instead of rehashing what hasn’t been done yet.

The more action focused your meetings, the shorter they are and the more enjoyable. People don’t mind meetings if progress is happening. It’s when they digress into bickering, circular debate, and soapboxing that they become mind numbingly boring to the point of becoming physically painful. Be judicious and keep your meetings brief, focused, and purposeful to boost your team’s productivity.

 

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The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

Many companies proudly say how they strive for excellence in everything they do. It’s a high and worthy goal, so long as it doesn’t leave companies paralyzed without a product, service, or foot in the marketplace. On the other side of the spectrum is the “good enough” crowd. Mostly comprised of technology companies, they look for the Minimum Viable Product and launch with a product or service that is good enough to attract paying customers, but often rife with bugs and glitches that yield multiple updates and fixes.

The Tension Between Striving for Excellence and Executing on Good Enough

As with all things, operating in any extreme on the spectrum is dangerous. Holding tightly to one or the other often leads to disaster for companies.

Excellence does not equal perfection

The quest for excellence goes too far when it confuses quality for perfection. We’ve all heard the saying that perfect doesn’t exist, yet many will constantly tweak, revise, polish, scrap, rebuild, and torment themselves and their companies in the pursuit of perfection. In the meantime companies with lesser products are hitting the market and killing it.

Good enough does not equal sloppy

On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who don’t stop to think, test, or research before storming into the marketplace in search of customers. The sloppy approach is often fueled by greed and fails to deliver any value.

Finding balance

Balance is not a static state of being nor is it a state where each opposing idea is held equally. Balance is a tension fluctuating between each opposing point of view. Sometimes it is important to lean more toward excellence, especially if people’s lives are at stake as is often the case with medical, engineering, and other fields. In these situations mitigating risk means choosing how many lives are worth an error in design or execution, which quite frankly is zero.

For products and services that don’t deal in life or death situations, good enough is a way to get a new product or service out and earning revenue quickly. You start by striving for excellence but at some point you have to apply what I like to call the “Screw It Principle.” That’s when you say, “screw it,” run with it and see what happens. This is usually the way of the technology industry, which is known for quickly iterating, testing, adjusting, and getting a minimum viable product to market. From there they use customer feedback to prioritize feature development and bug fixes instead of guessing at what is most important to the customer.

For most companies the best option is to walk the line somewhere in the middle, finding balance between excellence and good enough, between creating quality products and services and having something to sell.

Is Your Company’s Culture Corrupt?

Is Your Company’s Culture Corrupt?

Good companies are often infiltrated at all levels of the organization by crooks, and some companies are inherently crooked, but even good companies can find themselves inadvertently creating a corrupt culture that promotes unethical practices both internally and externally. Many researchers have studied the phenomenon and have identified critical elements that make an entire company go bad. What’s frightening is these characteristics are rather common, especially in organizations that tout themselves as performance driven firms.

So is your company’s culture corrupt?

Leadership is often the first to blame in any situation, but even more so when the company’s culture goes bad. In the article “Culture Corrupts! A Qualitative Study of Organizational Culture in Corrupt Organizations,” authors Campbell and Goritz analyzed corrupt organizations to identify the underlying cultural factors that create a corrupt environment. The authors found that two crucial components created an organizational culture that supports corruption. First, “[c]orrupt organizations perceived themselves to fight in a kind of war . . . [and] perceive themselves as a military force rather than as an ordinary company” (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 298).

As we all know war brings out the best and the worst in people. Starting with such an extreme approach drives the organization to win at all costs, which leads to the second key component of a corrupt culture—how they reward employees.

Corrupt organizations tie organizational survival and success to employee job security and success. Under these circumstances, the “employees’ moral and ethical concerns become less important than the concern to survive, with the consequence that employees begin to perceive corruption as a positive behavior.” In short, this creates an environment where “the end justifies the means,” and the only thing that matters is results, not how they are obtained (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 301). The leadership sets the tone by “[setting] their goals in a way that these goals are only attainable through corruption, and they distribute rewards” and apply punishment in a way that supports corruptive means (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 302).

I have heard many organizations push their sales team with the “come back on your shield mentality” or quoting the Art of War and the conference table. This is a toxic behavior, and ultimately a foolhardy and shortsighted approach to business.

The recent issues at Wells Fargo serve as a prime example. High demands were placed on employees to secure new accounts. Rewards and job preservation became closely tied to this goal. Over time employees found themselves pressured to meet these goals by any means necessary, which meant securing new accounts without the consent of the customer. Now Wells Fargo is drowning in the legal and economic repercussions of a decision that started out innocently enough, but that ultimately lead to an enterprise wide display of unethical behavior.

Many people can’t understand how Wells Fargo was able to let the situation get so bad. The answer is fear and silence. Fear and silence infect the whole organization and it is through fear and silence that immoral persons are able to falsify numbers, engage in conflicts of interests, and other unethical behaviors. The buck truly stops with leadership. The recent HBR article, “Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices,” showed that a manager’s reaction to employees who raise concerns determines whether they will ever speak up again (Carucci, 2016). Leaders need to make it okay to speak. Still, they are not the only ones to blame.

Whether through fear or silence, all members of the organization become complicit in the moral collapse of the whole firm when they don’t speak out against the unethical few. Author C.E. Johnson notes that some “don’t want to believe the organization is in trouble” and so choose to ignore what they see (2015, pg. 325). Self-imposed ignorance and inaction represents immoral behavior just as detrimental to the firm as the immoral behavior they are ignoring.

The push to win at all costs is a dangerous and slippery slope for companies. Don’t let a drive for results and success undermine the very fabric of your organization. Don’t let economic incentives erode the moral fiber of your company. Build an organization with a worthy purpose and set standards of behavior and money and success will naturally follow. Shortcuts ultimately leave you stranded, or worse, in jail. Better to take the high road.

 

 

References

Campbell, J., & Goritz, A.S. (2014) Culture corrupts! A qualitative study of organizational culture in corrupt organizations. Journal of Business Ethics. 120, 291-311. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from the EBSCOhost database.

Carruci, R. (2016, December 16). Why ethical people make unethical choices. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/12/why-ethical-people-make-unethical-choices.

Johnson, C.E. (2015). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow (5th ed.). Los Angeles, California: SAGE Publications Ltd.

 

Why “Lead by Example” is a Critical Element of Change Management

Why “Lead by Example” is a Critical Element of Change Management

We’ve all heard the phrase “lead by example.” We hear it so often that we often take for granted the fact that it means, “Do what you are asking others to do.” In all work situations it is essential that leaders embody the behaviors and qualities that they want to see in their people. More importantly this concept of “Lead by Example” is a critical element of change management.

Change is hard and most organizations fail when it comes to change management. There are many reasons change management fails, but one big component is the fact that many leaders ask for major change in their organization yet they never change themselves. The leader asks people to use software that they never log on to, to treat customers in ways they never do, and to follow procedures that they never follow. If the Owner, CEO, Principal, President doesn’t do it why should anyone else?

 

Lead by example and your people will follow.

In his book the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell discusses the “Law of the Lid.” In any organization the head honcho represents the “lid” or cap of growth for a company. Any limitations in your leadership translate to organizational limitations. In the same regard, any limitations in your ability to change, adapt, and to develop new skills and behaviors will cap your organization’s ability to respond to changes in market demands, technology, and business practice.

The solution is simple. If you want your people to do something, you do it first. You become the role model and exemplify the change, the attitude, and the skill that you want to see in the rest of your team. Lead by example and your people will follow.

Achieving True Competitive Advantage

Achieving True Competitive Advantage

Competitive advantage is an essential business concept, but not one that many companies do well. A winning competitive advantage is one that fits the company’s internal situation and its external environment, is sustainable, and results in good, consistent performance (Gamble, Peteraf, & Thompson, 2013, pg. 9). These criteria are all unique but interdependent. The company’s resources and capabilities play a big role in determining both the initial viability and the sustainability of a competitive advantage. Selecting a competitive advantage that is best suited to the firm allows the company to operate at optimum levels while creating a consistent and valuable experience for customers. This combination is what generates a sustainable competitive advantage.

Putting a firm’s resources to their highest and best use creates a natural efficiency that yields value and profit for the firm and customer. However many companies fail because they try to emulate the strategy of another firm without realizing that no two firms will have the exact same mix of internal and external environments, and so they cannot guarantee that the same strategy will yield the same results. If the strategy doesn’t fit the reality of their business—its capabilities, customer, competitors, market, etc.-they will not be able to compete, at least not for long.

Achieving True Competitive Advantage in Your Firm

Identify Your Core Competency

A core competence is rare, hard to imitate, not easily substituted, and “central to a company’s strategy and competitiveness” (Gamble, Peteraf, & Thompson, 2013, pg. 72). Companies get in trouble when they lose sight of their core competencies and try too hard to imitate rivals and big firms in their industry. I’ve seen it happen many times. Each firm has something that they and they alone are really good at. Identifying that item helps to establish the firm’s Unique Value Proposition and helps to truly set them apart from their competitors. A company can’t be everything to everyone and survive. Focusing on your firm’s core competency will keep you from overextending your resources and from making critical strategic errors. This is especially true for firms utilizing a true differentiation strategy. As authors Zook and Allen note in their article for the Harvard Business Review, “The growth generated by successful differentiation begets complexity, and a complex company tends to forget what it’s good at” (2011). As you grow, stay focused on your strengths, and don’t try to dive into areas where you have no competency or advantage, no matter how green the grass may appear.

Deliver Consistent Value To Build Brand Loyalty

As mentioned earlier, a sustainable competitive advantage is one that delivers consistent value for customers, which in turn builds brand loyalty. Consistent delivery requires a great deal of investment of time, training, and resources to do well, especially for companies with multiple locations. Ensuring that a customer enjoys the same experience at a location in Montana as they do in Florida takes solid processes, systems, training, management, and care in the design of products and services. Though it takes more work, the fact that the customer experience is not only more enjoyable, but consistent across locations means that the customer can remain a customer whether they move or travel. Even single location companies can compete with consistent delivery of a valuable experience to the customer and excel against their competitors. Customers will return time and time again when they know and trust that they will get a good value. This is often the reason why more expensive brands still attract large followings over low cost providers. Which brings me to my next point.

Focus on Being Different, Not Cheaper

Cheap is not a strategy. As Seth Godin stated in his blog “Cheap is the last refuge for the [company] who can’t figure out how to be better” (2016). Starbucks continues to do well not because of the price of its coffee, but because of the consistency in its delivery paired with other key factors, such as social responsibility and convenience of locations, that appeal to the market. Companies like Starbucks compete on overall value and appeal, while low cost providers such as McDonald’s will always compete on price. Customers that go there because it’s cheaper will jump ship as soon as they find another provider who can do it for less. It’s hard to stay profitable and cheap at the same time. Zook and Allen said it best, “You earn money not just by performing a valuable task but by being different from your competitors in a manner that lets you serve your core customers better and more profitably” (2011).

Learn to Adapt

As markets and the competitive landscape evolve and change, companies need to look for ways to adapt without straying from their core competency. We have watched many companies die a slow and painful death because they weren’t able to translate their core competencies to the demands of a changing market. The news and publishing industries along with retail have been struggling to deliver in a digital world. Sears, who was once a go to for valuable home goods, tried to reposition the retail giant as a tech company and is now buckling under the consequences of a bad strategy. Stores are crumbling, morale is low, and the company is in a financial tailspin (Peterson, 2017). Sears strayed too far from its core competencies and its unlikely it will survive. Companies often confuse the product with its core competency. Often it’s the delivery that creates the true advantage. Be careful not to assume that market changes are fads or that in order to compete you have to emulate emerging leaders. Adapt, but don’t conform or lose sight of what your company does best.

 

References

Gamble, J.E., Peteraf, M.A., & Thompson, Jr., AA. (2013). Essentials of strategic management: The quest for competitive advantage. (4th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Godin, S. (2016, August 25). In pursuit of cheap. Seth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/08/in-pursuit-of-cheap.html.

Peterson, H. (2017, January 8). Inside Sears’ death spiral: How an iconic American brand has been driven to the edge of bankruptcy. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/sears-failing-stores-closing-edward-lampert-bankruptcy-chances-2017-1

Zook, C. & Allen, J. (2011, November). The great repeatable business model. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/11/the-great-repeatable-business-model.

Social Media is Not a One Size Fits All Solution

Social Media is Not a One Size Fits All Solution

In the 10+ years since I’ve become familiar with social media, I have watched it emerge and evolve. New platforms are released almost daily, with only a few reaching mass adoption status. “Gurus” rise and fall in kind, spreading “tips and tricks” and hysteria fueled by zealousness for a platform and not for sound marketing strategy. Can every company benefit from a social media strategy? Absolutely! Should every company have a presence on every platform? Hell no!

Nothing against the zealots, I love their passion and they are doing a great deal to drive business and people into a vibrant, connected world, but the majority of companies don’t need and can’t handle a ten to twenty channel, multilayered social media program. Social media is not a one size fits all solution. For many, their customer is not searching or buying or even present on certain platforms, at least not in numbers to justify an investment. For some, Facebook is quite literally a waste of time while other companies can make a killing on Facebook. Some should put an Instagram account way on the bottom of the list, while others should jump in with both feet.

Are they both amazing platforms? Of course, but different platforms serve different purposes, attract different types of people, engage in different ways with clients, and require different types of content. A sound social media strategy pairs the goals and competencies of the company with an analysis of their target market to find the right social media platform and right social media tactics to connect the company with its customer in a way that is profitable and grows the brand. For one company, that may mean focusing on LinkedIn and Twitter. For another, Pinterest and Instagram may make the most sense. For those with more resources to commit to social media, they may want to engage on 3-5 platforms, maybe more. Most, however, don’t have the resources of a global company and shouldn’t be sold the same package.

For any company, selecting which social media platforms to utilize is based on the following questions:

What and how many resources does the company have to commit to a social media strategy? This includes time, staff, money, etc. Also consider frequency and consistency of delivery here. If one person is only able to commit 25% of their time to social media marketing, how often can they consistently post quality content and on how many platforms?

What social media platforms naturally have the highest concentrations of their customers engaging in activities that would feed them into the sales and marketing funnel? Its better to “go where the fish are” and invest your time where you know you are getting in front of the most potential customers. There is an abundance of research on the demographics of users on each platform as well as which industries are best served by each.

If the company is handling their social media in-house, what level of expertise do their responsible parties have in the relevant social media platforms? When handling your social media in-house without a dedicated specialist, it’s better to start where one is comfortable, build out a workflow and gain traction, then dive into more unfamiliar territory.

Across the board, its better to start small, build a consistent and quality practice, then expand. Know and understand your company (and team’s) competencies and your customer’s online preferences and habits and then build a social media strategy that reflects you and your situation, not the high-pressure sales tactics of a social media zealot.

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a comprehensive approach to operating a social conscious business. CSR operates with the understanding that the firm affects many stakeholders and must function in a way that creates a positive impact. This includes providing good wages and working conditions, promoting sustainability, and other community focused endeavors. CSR differs from corporate citizenship in that corporate citizenship only looks at community involvement in terms of donations or other limited efforts, or what author Richard Levick calls “passive check writing” (2012). Instead, CSR ensures that every aspect of the business is run in a socially conscious manner.

According to authors Gamble, Peteraf, & Thompson, CSR programs manifest in a few ways. The first is the commitment to operating an ethical business that is inclusive, principled, and fair. This includes programs that promote quality of life for employees and fair treatment of suppliers. The second are large-scale philanthropic initiatives that target disadvantaged groups, such as diversity programs, job programs, charity campaigns, and other endeavors. The third are sustainability or “green” programs that promote stewardship of the environment. In essence, Corporate Social Responsibility is concerned with the triple bottom line: people, the planet, and profit (2013, pg. 197-199).

The Perceived Trade Off Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility

Many argue that managing the triple bottom line requires trade-offs between social equity, ecological preservation, and profitability. Businesses need to consider the overall cost versus return of initiatives and the trade-offs associated with each. The investments in green and social practices need to produce enough of a return either in reduced costs, improved revenue, or reduced liabilities to meet the standards of business both in terms of sustainability and profitability (Halpern et al, 2013, pg. 6229-6234).

However, much of the research has shown that operating with a focus on a triple bottom line does not require trade-offs between profit and social responsibility. Because triple bottom line companies operate with concern and interest in the social and ecological environments they operate in, they are able to shape those environments in order to develop new markets and new capabilities. Also, by valuing the resources used to produce goods and services and operating with a focus on preserving those resources, triple bottom line firms have been able to identify sustainable sources that are both cheaper and ecologically sound. This reduces costs and insulates the business to fluctuations in the supply of raw materials. By better managing supply chains while developing new capabilities, triple bottom line firms are able to establish and maintain a competitive advantage over their peers (Glavas & Mish, 2014, pg. 630-632).

One key example of this is Starbucks. Starbucks’ Corporate Social Responsibility programs address every aspect while preserving a focus on profit. Their products, especially their coffee beans, are ethically and sustainably sourced. They have numerous hiring programs that support key community members such as veterans and their spouses. They promote volunteerism among their team members, and other key programs. Their commitment to sustainable coffee sourcing and biodiversity are especially forward thinking practices. The coffee supply under traditional farming practices is in serious danger. Traditional farming practices have eliminated biodiversity in many crops, leaving them susceptible to pests and diseases that have become more prevalent over the years. The NY Times recently shared a report on climate change that claims coffee crops will continue to be devastated by pest and disease as temperatures continue to rise. By promoting biodiversity and crops that are more resistant to these pests and diseases, Starbucks has a head start on protecting and preserving their supply chain.

Despite the growing body of research, many companies are slow to tackle the Corporate Social Responsibility challenge. As the body of research develops and more examples of profitable, socially responsible firms emerge, the pressure to change will grow. The change to CSR practices won’t be easy for existing firms, and will require a complete overhaul in how they are structured and how they do business, but the long term pay offs for both the company and its stakeholders is worth it.

 

 

References

Bromwich, J.E. (2016, September 22). Climate change threatens world’s coffee supply, report says. NYTimes.com. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/science/climate-change-threatens-worlds-coffee-supply-report-says.html?_r=0.

Gamble, J.E., Peteraf, M.A., Thompson, Jr., AA. (2013). Essentials of strategic management: The quest for competitive advantage. (4th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Glavas, A. & Mish, J. (2014, January 30). Resources and capabilities of triple bottom line firms: Going over old or breaking new ground? Journal of Business Ethics. 127, 623-642. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the EBSCOhost database.

Halpern, B.S. et al (2013, April 9). Achieving the triple bottom line in the face of inherent trade-offs among social equity, economic return, and conservation. PNAS. 110(15), 6229-6234. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the Highwire Press National Academy of Sciences database.

Levick, R. (2012, January 11). Corporate social responsibility for profit. Forbes.com Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardlevick/2012/01/11/corporate-social-responsibility-for-profit/#2f88c21646f1.