Sunday, June 29, 2008

Adaptive Change--Hows and Whys

We are taught through out our lives to “look before we leap”, but what would happen if we didn’t? What if we know that our business could be better or, for that matter, our lives could be better but we simply did not know exactly how to make the improvement? Isn’t that the case most of the time, we know what we want… we just don’t know how to do it.

In cases like this we may need to stir up a little courage and “leap before we look”. We just have to get the change started, knowing that we could be in a better place.

Just do something for goodness sake!

We probably have an idea of what our business and lives would be like if our goals were met, but the specific steps to make the goals a reality are not clear. In other words, we may know why we should incite change, but not how to make it happen.

It is my opinion, that if our “whys” are big and important enough, the “hows” tend to work themselves out over time. I think we should spend much more time and effort on figuring out WHY we want to change rather than HOW we are going to do it. When someone says, “How are we going to do that?” I tend to be a little smarty and respond with, “Does it matter? The real question is...Why do you want to do that? Is your mind made up? Are you willing to pay the price to make it happen?”

I think that adaptive change is the only true way to progress. How can we know precisely what will transpire in the future? I have known people that are frozen until they think they know every step toward their goal. Until step number 224 is known and mapped out and rehearsed, step 1 is never taken. Now, I am not against planning, in fact I am all for it. But I believe that having a plan is much more important than (blindly) following it. When circumstances change our plan and actions must change…adaptively.

You do not have to get it right (at first); you just have to get it started. Until the rocket is launched, it cannot change course.

Go ahead! Jump from the plane and build the parachute on the way down! Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss every shot you don’t take.” Examine your whys…you will figure out the hows.

Are your whys big enough?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Staying True

I have been involved with a small not-for-profit organization, HOPE Ministries, for the past 10 years or so. As with most small non-profits, financial stability is extremely hard to achieve, especially if the organization is not “institutionally” supported by some larger national group, which HOPE is not. So, there is a tendency to “chase the money”.

What I mean by this is to attempt to twist HOPE’s vision and mission, which, by the way, is to assist homeless or at-risk for homeless families in attaining self-sufficiency, to fit into a particular grant program’s parameters. The need for money to continue the mission sometimes clouds the clarity of the mission itself. Fortunately, so far, we have been able to fight the urge and remain true to our purpose…but it is very hard. If there is a grant available that, by a stretch, HOPE’s mission “fits”, a lively discussion is likely to be had.

For-profit businesses sometime have the same issue.

This week an old friend, maybe I shouldn’t say “old” but a longtime friend, called and set up an appointment to drop by and talk to me about some “CPA work”. Ray had retired from one of the local petrochemical facilities and was now being courted as a consultant. Of course, he had heard lots of “cocktail party talk” about the tax and business advantages of operating his own business through some type of legal entity. After a couple of hours of talking through the details 2 things became very apparent to both of us: Ray did not want to go through the “headache” of setting up and running a “real” business (we discussed other ways to “skin that cat”) and Ray’s needs were not a good fit for our firm’s vision of deep, long-term relationships with business owners.

At the end of the meeting Ray had gotten what he needed, a direction, and I, hopefully, brought some real value to him, even though it was not exactly what either of us expected.

It would have been easy to “chase the money” with Ray. We could have talked for hours on end about how he could save a few bucks by setting up a business, etc. But he did not want that. He wanted freedom from details…not more of them. As for our firm…what did we gain?….how about a new advocate that now understands our vision, not working on a project that is not within our mission, and a sense of satisfaction that you brought real value and peace of mind to our “customer”?

The reward for staying true is simply priceless!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


“Gentlemen, this is a football,” so said Vince Lombardi. Who was he talking to? Not a room full of men at a cooking class or boys in high school home economics….but to a group of veteran professional football players. I would say that Vince was interested in fundamentals! You may recall that he was not very fond of the forward pass but instead favored the “4 yards and a cloud of dust” Green Bay sweep. Wow…what a thing of beauty!

Vince Lombardi was a successful coach. Why? Not because of a playbook full of trick plays but because of his insistence on getting the basics right. Blocking and tackling if you will.

I remember back in my high school years (yes I can still remember that far back) one of my friend’s younger brother, I think he was about 8 years old, practicing his technique of spiking the ball. He became a great ball spiker but unfortunately he didn’t get the chance to do it very much because he missed out on learning the fundamentals of the game. He just wasn’t interested. Spiking the ball was more fun. Those fundamentals would have put him in a much better position for ultimate success.

Though Pistol Pete Maravich was known as a magician and showman with a basketball, a little research into his early days shows his disciplined approach to practice and an extraordinary interest in the fundamentals of the game. He practiced dribbling until he could bounce the ball perfectly…from the window of a moving car….with either hand! He practiced pass after pass and shot after shot. Yes, Pete could dribble between his legs while running full speed and he could pass behind his back accurately without looking…but this was only possible after mastering the basics.

Do fundamentals have a place in the business world? Absolutely!

Business persons must define and refine a set of critical success factors for their business operation. The more basic and few in number of these items the better. These critical success factors (or fundamentals) are the things the business absolutely must get right in order to succeed. Care should be taken when identifying these items and systems should be put in place to see that these factors are being executed or performed at the highest quality possible and very consistently.

Have you identified your critical success factors? If not, it may be time to spend a few quiet hours pondering fundamentals.

“Gentlemen, mastering fundamentals makes winners!”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Importance of Professional Relationships

Building professional relationships and the pricing of professional services to customers can be rather complicated endeavors. Do both the professional and customer have a clear understanding of where the relationship should go? As for pricing, the easy way out is to take a rate-x-hour approach, which, when analyzed, is illogical. How do you place a value on an idea in that environment? How do you price the answer to a complicated question to the second customer when the research was done for the first? Does the amount of time it takes to perform a task always relate to the value of the task performed?

Our firm has adopted a value pricing approach which attempts to match the value of the service delivered with the price charged. Obviously, this is dependent on the value of the service as seen through the eyes of the customer. Intangible products (services) can sometimes be difficult to value if both buyer and seller do not have an understanding of the intimate relationship shared by dealers in intangibles. As the professional, we must appreciate the overall objective of the customer and not just wish to solve an immediate issue. This would be akin to being only concerned with the score at the end of the 1st inning of a 9 inning ballgame. Where do we want to end up? The customer must understand, and believe, that the professional truly cares about his well being and long-term success. The score at the end of the game is much more important than the score at the end of inning 1.

Experienced professionals and their business person customers have been educated in the “school of hard-knocks” and been told it is a “dog-eat-dog” world out there. In other words, we should be suspicious of everyone, even people that are supposed to be on our side. While agreeing that we should apply care in choosing with whom we associate, I propose that relationship building over a period of time will alleviate most worries in this area. As for the “dog-eat-dog” world, I am from rural south Mississippi and have been around lots of dogs and have never seen one dog eat another, what I have seen, and do believe, is that it is a “dog-sniff-butt-dog” world. They are suspicious only until they get to know each other.

The professional (the seller of intangible services) must truly be concerned with the success of his customer (the buyer of intangible services) and not just with getting paid on a project by project basis. This may sound like a “duh” type statement but most professionals in a rate-x-hour firm are short term focused. To be a valued advisor, the professional should spend as much time on the relationship as the specific project.

After all, when we are gone, what will be remembered…the fact that we got the project right?….or the fact that we were a true friend and cared about our customer?