Archive - August 2015

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Should I buy a business to give me a salary?
A “proper” planning process
Customer Service in frontline staff
How do I quantify my Vision?

Should I buy a business to give me a salary?

I recently spent three months in constant contact with a client advising him on a management buy out.

Not so unusual….except this time I was trying to talk him out of it!

Here’s the situation, my client is an engineer, and has been an engineer all his adult life. He rose through the ranks of the company he has worked for since he left university until he became General Manager reporting to the CEO who was also the owner. During his career with this (small) company, he helped to draft procedures manuals and develop their internal systems; he got to know the clients and while not in sales, he helped develop relations through his work and his network with the customers was excellent.

Then, the family owners decided to sell out to a publicly listed company. My client stayed with the company and started reporting to a new CEO appointed by the public company. He can’t say that his relations with the CEO and the new owners, represented by the Chairman, were bad. Indeed they were courteous, but simply different.

Of course it would be. He had gone from direct relationships with people he had known since he was a young man 20 years ago to corporate relationships with people he hardly saw. As friendly as these new relationships were, they had to be different.

After a few years, the market turned. The specialist engineering services provided by his company started to lose demand, and the business results plummeted. The public company held on for as long as it could but then had to make the commercial decision – it had to sell the company and asked if my client wanted to enter into a management buy out.

I won’t detail the financial structure as that’s not the point of this article. Suffice to say that the company was not worth anything after the last couple of years’ bad results.

However my client believed he could revive its fortunes and turn it around – in the last couple of years, the CEO and the Chairman had not listened to his warnings about how to conduct operations and how to market their services and he felt they were starting to lose contact with his network. However he had kept contact and felt that he could bring their business back, as well as make the operations more efficient.

The point was, how much would this cost him? Since the business was worthless, and closing it would cost the public company hundreds of thousands in redundancies and other costs of closure, I felt he was in the best bargaining position. We worked out scrap value for the plant and equipment, agreed that we would not take over any liabilities, and decided that was our bottom line. I discussed with him in detail how it was simply not worth more since there was no “goodwill” in a loss-making company, and any up-side would have to be put in by himself after the takeover.

That was the context – it should have been a short negotiation. Either the public company would negotiate a little then accept, realising that this was the best offer, as otherwise they would not receive any money but would have to pay out a lot of closing costs, or they would refuse and my client needed to walk away.

So why did it take three months? Read More

A “proper” planning process

In over 30 years’ experience in advising clients on planning I believe very strongly that there is a correct process to follow when you are preparing your strategic or business plan.

At the same time, I have also seen many attempts at different ways to prepare strategic or business plans by consultants who have never had to live through the implementation phase of planning, when client staff go “Huh? What exactly are we supposed to do here?”

I have just spent some time with a client who has prepared their plan exactly in that way. While I was advising them on the financial aspects of their business, their Chief Operating Officer was internally preparing their strategic plan, which I had a chance to look at since it would obviously have an impact on their financial strategy and budget. It was not my role since, as a gun-for-hire consultant I can only do what I am contracted to do. However, for the benefit of my client I felt I had to provide some warning about what I felt were the shortcomings of the planning process to the CEO.

As a consultant you have to approach these situations carefully. You do not want to seem critical so that you look like you are touting for more work; you do not want to insult internal staff and put them off side in case you have to work with them on other issues – yet, I always feel a responsibility to provide an independent view of what I see that may affect their business.

Here, for nothing, is a list of what I thought was wrong with the process and the resulting planning document.

Read More

Customer Service in frontline staff

As your business grows, you no longer have the only contact with your customers. More and more, that front-facing position is being filled by your frontline staff – your sales people, your front of house reception, your people who meet and greet and deal with customers day to day.

The customer service instincts that you displayed now have to be passed on to your frontline staff. So how do you breed that customer-service mentality into your team?

The principles are actually quite simple – ensure your team is vision-driven, build strong teamwork, create vision-centric KPI’s and provide rewards for doing the right things, as explained in this video.

Some key steps include:-

1. Ensure customer service starts with understanding your “brand”.

Your frontline staff need to understand what your “brand” is, as reinforced by your business vision statement. What does achieving your vision mean to your customer? What values will your staff need to uphold in front of the customer to ensure that the vision comes alive? What indications does your vision statement give them on how they should deal with a complaint? Are they empowered to make decisions about customer-service as long as their decisions align with the indicators in the vision?

2. Reinforce good teamwork

Remove any barriers to teamwork and create a structure that shares knowledge about clients and about service. Provide systems that give frontline staff all they know about customer preferences. Allow staff to hand over to someone else in the team more appropriate for the task or the customer.

3. Negotiate and implement KPI’s that measure attainment of the vision in customer-service

Remove Key Performance Indicators that measure output (how many customers served) and instead implement KPI’s that reinforce vision-centric outcomes (how many customers received what they asked for, how many customers received more than they asked for).

4. Reward vision-centric outcomes

Stop paying bonuses for income generated from customers. Instead create rewards that that actually reward behaviours that produce outcomes described by the vision and brand. Instead of awarding an award for the highest sales every month, how about awarding the person who satisfied customers? High sales may be one-off, satisfied customers come back again and again.

Get over to the Resources section of https://teikoh.com to see what other models, worksheets and templates can help you grow your business the right way.

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How do I quantify my Vision?

I received an email from Joanne who owns an interior design consultancy in Toronto who asked a series of questions about her Vision for her business.

One of the more intriguing ones was:-

“I realize that making the company’s vision statement live is the key to how we fulfill the promise of our unique selling proposition. But I’m finding it hard to explain what I mean in our vision statement to my team and to customers. It seems so clear to myself what I want to achieve at the end of the day but have I got the wording wrong in the statement?”

Her company’s vision statement reads “We believe in taking both our customers and ourselves to the front edge of design so that we both benefit from leading the pack.”

Not a bad vision statement in my book. It describes a journey that involves both the business and the customer so that it creates the feeling of mutually beneficial relationship; it sets their value of being at the forefront of design which also sets the scene for the customer that says “don’t come to us if you want lace and frills”; and it feels inspirational and inviting. When I read that statement I see energy, innovation, and adventure.

No, I don’t think Joanne has “the wrong wording”. So back to her question, how does she explain what she means in the vision statement to her team and her customers?

Before I answer that question let me talk a little about why you need to make your vision statement “live”. Many businesses make the mistake of writing an exciting vision statement and putting it on the wall, but not making it come alive in the business.

Your vision statement is your “brand” and it should guide how you run your business, how you deal with your customers, how you behave day to day and why you are doing it. If your team members understand what it actually means, it takes away all the little micro-decisions they have to make because the vision spells out the way. No longer do they have to get authorisation or seek management advice about who to hire – they refer to the vision, understand what type of person is required, and make the decision. If they are concerned about whether or not to offer a customer extended payment terms, they refer to the vision and if they understand what it says about the desired customers and what service means, they make the decision.

In this way, a well understood vision statement empowers people.

So, how do you quantify a vision statement in such a way that everyone understands how it applies in almost any given situation? This video explains how.

If you choose your perspectives well, and if you really drill down in each perspective, the resulting description or answer to the question “once we achieve our vision how will we…” lays out what your vision statement means.

The website https://teikoh.com have worksheets and templates to help you describe your vision and quantify it, along with many other templates, tools and resources to create strategy, provide leadership and grow your business. Start the conversation, go to our Facebook page and leave a comment.

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