What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Strategic Crossroads (Part 1): The Encampment

CoveredWagonImagine the scene: the CEO and a collection of company shareholders, directors and senior management team members have piled into their corporate Covered Prairie Wagon. The wagon is lumbering down the winding, bumpy, rutted path called the Shareholder Value Road.

Or…instead of a crowded, hot Prairie Wagon (did the Pioneers hang those ‘Little Trees’ air fresheners…), maybe it’s just you bouncing along in your own personal buckboard.

No matter what you’re driving, at some point on the journey all corporate wagons come to a major crossroad – a Strategic Crossroad.  Generally, more than one Strategic Crossroad is encountered on the long Shareholder Value Road. You can hit them:

  • early in the adventure
  • at a mature midpoint
  • unexpectedly
  • and/or near the end of the trail

Whatever the natural stopping point, critical choices have to be made – you (and your traveling companions) have to pick a direction and move on. Chances are you will have to ‘make camp’ for a bit while the directional choices are identified, evaluated, debated, argued, rejected and decided. In some extended encampments, the travellers may need a lot of provisions!

There could be many signs in front of you…

1258 strategic crossroads3Business press releases offer repetitious stories about strategic choices/alternatives found on the Shareholder Value Road all the time. The public company stories are generally presented in a very clinical light.   Here are a couple of examples from well known companies:

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What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

CEOs: Don’t Be Left Behind, Make Your Company Relevant

stuck in another worldIs your company stuck in the past…is your industry slowly (or quickly) changing?

Have your customers’ needs moved away from your old product/service offerings?

These changes can build up, and then erupt.

Companies become Stuck in Another World if:

  1. They don’t recognize or react to evolving industry forces and trends
  2. They have lost their core strengths and competitive advantages
  3. Products/services have become indistinct commodities

If this is the case, what can you do about it?  For those readers who have successfully dealt with these challenges, what are some successful tactics you can share with the 9Stucks readers who find themselves in this predicament?

Just this summer, conversations I’ve had with CEOs and private equity investors have quickly gravitated to their laments and frustrations about either: 1) customer behavior; 2) new competitors; 3) industry dynamics; 4) product/service offerings; or 5) all of the above.

The chatter is loud. Here is a sampling from the conversations:

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What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

5 Pesky Plights Hurt a Family Business (Part 5): The Sacred Cows

cowI know you’ve run across Sacred Cows (“SCs”)…we all have in our business careers or personal life.

Dictionary.com defines a Sacred Cow to be: “an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning”.

This is the final post in my five-part series that explains how 5 particularly disabling conditions can negatively impact the value of a family-owned company. I saved this particular subject for last. I find that the presence of ‘bad’ Sacred Cows is the most emotional and highly personal of all of the previously discussed performance inhibitors found in this series. 

Good SCs, like a popular brand or an established, competitive business practice, are legacies that should not be messed with. However, ‘bad’ SCs:

  • are difficult to change
  • are hard to eradicate
  • can’t be spoken about
  • can have a profound, severe impact on operations

A family-owned company’s bad Sacred Cows wander around these pastures:

  1. People
  2. Products (or Services)
  3. Places
  4. Past Behavior

People: unqualified family members with significant roles

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What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Founders: Are You Stuck Before You Start?

It’s exciting to be in the mix at the 2014 Mass Challenge Mentor matching process http://masschallenge.org/accelerator.  
As a mentoring service to the hard-working finalists in the nation’s largest Accelerator, I’m republishing this post.
This post was originally published in 2012; nothing has changed. Enjoy and comment! 

Where Start-ups Get Stuck – and How to Avoid Going There

Between us, my long-time friend (and fellow blogger) Andy Palmer and I have started a lot of companies. We also advise many other companies and look at even more pitches from start-ups.  A shared observation is that while a few start-ups shine (or at least glimmer) and go on to some success, other start-ups seem stuck before they start.  Why?

Here are our observations on where start-up founders get stuck and our advice on how to prevent Stuck situations, presented Q&A style. This post also appears on Andy’s blog.

Q.  Andy, where are the most common places you see founders getting stuck, and why?

Andy Palmer, Start-Up Specialist

I see a lot of founders get stuck at the very earliest stages – by being distracted by fundraising.  I’ve said before – over and over again – founders should focus on developing their business first and not worry about fundraising nearly as much as they would probably like.  It’s natural to be nervous when you don’t have any money in the bank.  But it’s a healthy discipline to figure out how you are going to create value for customers who will pay you instead of spending time thinking about how to extract money from venture capitalists or seed investors.  As an angel investor, I’m always looking for people who are mission-driven and focused on their customers, as Jim says below, instead of worrying about what potential investors might think.

 Q.  So how can entrepreneurs avoid getting distracted by fundraising?

Just focus on your business and your customers.  Wake up every morning thinking about how you are going to create value for your customers. Go to sleep at night considering which of your customers you helped that day and how.  Be maniacally focused on your customers’ needs.  It sounds simple – and it is – but executing this when you are starting from scratch – with no product, no credibility, and no people –  is really hard. It requires all your energy and your concentration.

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What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

The March Hare CEO

 

Have you attended a “Mad Tea Party” Board of Directors or management meeting and listened to the CEO’s unrealistic expectations about future performance?  Did you leave the meeting scratching your head about what you heard?

Lewis Carroll introduced us to the strange Mad Hatter and the March Hare in his 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Mad Hatter hosted the Mad Tea Party; during this raucous event there was one revealing exchange with Alice:

 ‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

 Alice looked all around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.

 ‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

 ‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

How many times has a corporate leader told you there was plenty of wine about, but in fact, there was only tea at best?  Your gut is screaming… “There is no way this company can hit those targets”.  But your hope and the March Hare CEO’s enthusiasm get the better of you.  I have seen this scenario repeated many times at stuck companies; there can be over optimism and not enough effort focused on analyzing the brutal facts and confronting reality.

What’s wrong with being optimistic and aiming high?

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What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Call the Handyman: These Garage Doors are Broken

 

Does the 9Stucks diagnostic tool apply to companies of all sizes?

Does 9Stucks work in determining if large, established public companies, like Hewlett Packard are stuck?

HP is a perfect example of a long-term, dysfunctional, stuck company. It wasn’t stuck in the garage…

Over many years at HP there has been conflict within the Board, conflict at the CEO and C-suite level, conflict in the rank and file, an unclear business model and many other conditions noted below that have caused it to be perpetually stuck.  A once great company has plummeted down; today the big question is whether Meg Whitman can lead a comeback.

Fortune Magazine writers James Bandler and Doris Burke are the authors of a recently published and well-written article that documents “How Hewlett-Packard Lost Its Way” (May 21 issue).  I have extracted content from their article (all the italicized quotes below) that relate to the six of my 9Stucks that I think apply to HP (Ditch, Moment, Slow Lane, Another World, Fog, Maze, Rough).

Stuck in the Ditch:  there is a significant, persistent problem within the organization’s leadership ranks. Ditch is caused by one or more of these six conditions -

  1. Weak, uninspiring leadership
  2. The CEO does not command the respect of the organization.
  3. The CEO’s behavior causes constant anxiety throughout the organization
  4. Corporate governance is broken
  5. Meddling by the Board
  6. No hands on the wheel (i.e. formal governance)

HP has or has had 5 of the 6.

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