Too many meetings? Email overflow? Voicemail out of control? Long hours and missed commitments?
My new article on the value of being connected to the core business of organization has been published by Techrepublic.com
Here is how it starts:
“There is a reality TV show called Undercover Boss, where a senior executive of a large company takes a position at the bottom of the corporate pyramid. The executive discovers daily operations at the level of detail unknown in the executive suites. Epiphanies abound.
While the show is highly staged and predictable, and its entertainment value is questionable, few viewers are surprised that senior management knows so little about their core business. How do they run the company? Shouldn’t executive decisions be based on the knowledge of operations?
The distance between the executive suites and the front lines is often of galactic proportions. Because customers are found at the front lines (if you want to order a meatball sandwich or open a savings account, you don’t call head office), being light years away from the front line translates into being light year away from the customer.
The way I see it, the demand for management consulting services is not likely to go away any time soon.”
Every day, dozens of people download a business case template from my website. It has been used by universities, Fortune 100 companies and the leading management consultancies. Some people follow up with questions.
Truth be told, a template alone is not a guarantee for a great proposal or business case. I have compiled a list of thirty tips that should be useful for managers, business development and sales people, and anyone else potentially facing the need to develop one.
1. Your case should have an objective: a real problem you are looking to resolve or an opportunity you are looking to take advantage of. Be clear on the raison d’être for your case. Rolling out a CRM system is not an objective but one of the alternatives; improving client affinity and increasing sales per client may be a legitimate objective.
2. Your perception of something being a problem or an opportunity may be entirely different from that of the decision makers. If you believe you are right and they just aren’t aware, do an exceptional work in explaining it so that they understand. Often, we see people spending months working on a case for a problem that they believe exists just to hear from a decision maker: “Look, this is really a non-issue.” Before embarking on a proposal, check upstairs if the issue is seen as warranting attention.
3. The size of a business case is not something you should be concerned about. Concentrate on the content instead, tell the story. The case should adequately present your proposal and, at times, two pages will be too many and, at times, two hundred pages will be too few.
4. Always present more than one alternative within your business case. What is the right number? Three or four should do it.
5. Do not introduce weak “straw man” alternatives which try to steer the decision makers towards the solution you favour. It is usually obvious.
6. I cannot stress this enough: do your absolute best in creating strong, viable alternatives, well thought through and diverse. If you don’t, a decision maker may introduce one during the presentation, which will be embarrassing and require time to evaluate. If that doesn’t happen, the decision will be limited to a potentially incomplete, deficient set, of which Shakespeare said “There’s small choice in rotten apples.”
7. Always recommend one of the alternatives. Firstly, because you are the author of the case, you will be expected to know more about it than anybody else and, hence, know which option is the best. Secondly, even if the decision makers disagree with your recommendation, you will at least have shown them that you have an opinion, which commands respect.
8. Every proposal has its audience. Choose the language so that they don’t have to work too hard to understand what you are saying. If the audience is external to your department, division or company, increasingly more detail will be required. The jargon, the acronyms, the oh-so-obvious to you process flows may need to be explained in fine detail. Conversely, if the case is for internal consumption only, there is no point in explaining obvious everyday things.
9. Different people think differently: some are big picture strategists, others are detail oriented. Some are risk-averse and others like the challenge of the unknown. People make decisions using their internal frames of reference, which are formed through juxtaposition of cultural norms, values, education, life experiences, memes, current events, and so on. An author of a business case will be best served to understand how the target decision makers tend to make decision, so that she could structure her message accordingly.
10. Expose key decision makers to findings as you go about developing the case to gauge their reaction and adjust the course if needed. If your proposal or business case has a sponsor, such as a senior executive, avoid surprising them at all cost.
11. Make your audience “own” important or contentious data. For example, obtain sales projections or cost assumptions from the head of the business unit, CFO or COO. If they or their subordinates are among the decision makers, not only will these numbers be challenged, the people who provided them will likely feel compelled to support your case.
12. Know your numbers cold.
13. Take the time to determine where the opposition is likely to come from and prepare to address most likely concerns. There is really no excuse for being unprepared.
14. If you are writing a proposal in response to a client’s request, remember that most clients know what they want, but few know what they need (for this reason, RFPs are a wrong vehicle for acquiring consulting services).Time invested to understand the real needs will pay off handsomely as in many cases you will be able to expand the scope significantly. Even if you cannot do that, for example, due to time constraints, always offer the client a choice of an alternative that delivers incredible value at a price above the stated budget.
15. Use the business case format with which is already adopted in the organization. If there isn’t one, you can download free business case template from my web site.
16. Be concise, clear, logical and persuasive in style.
17. When unsure how much of the numerical data (eg projections, pro forma earnings, etc) to present in a live meeting, start with summaries but always have detailed information in your back pocket. Likewise, in a written case, it is a good idea not to burden the write-up with extensive tables or derivations but to attach them as appendices.
18. Always identify your sources of data.
19. Ensure that your data sources are reliable. Despite the proven accuracy of Wikipedia, it is best not to use it as a source if information because its validity can be easily questioned.
20. Never cast blame or accuse anyone (e.g. past management, departed project teams, third parties, etc) for the current condition. It is irrelevant and can lead to unintended consequences, like in “You know, the former project lead you have just lambasted is the CFO’s wife…”
21. If your proposal or business case includes financial cost-benefit analysis, as most of them should, use the method which your organization is familiar with.
22. If you have a choice of a method of financial cost-benefit analysis, make sure you understand pros, cons and limitations of each of them. Not every method is appropriate for every situation. As a primer, this two-part article should be useful.
23. If you are not familiar with financial cost-benefit analysis methodologies, engage external help. Contrary to a common belief, this is not a job for an accountant. The cost of doing this is negligible compared to that of possible ramifications of it not being done right.
24. Two key principles to keep in mind for your cost-benefit analysis: realism and attribution (only consider effects directly attributable to the proposed course of action).
25. Cost-benefit analysis should not be limited to financial considerations. Consider the wide variety of benefits (or costs, which are reverse): industry leadership, strategic advancement, increased capacity, improved safety, reduced environmental impact, introduction of best industry practices, improved image, benefits to a friendly third party, doing the right thing, and so on.
26. Beware of the cost-cutting mindset, which stifles innovation and breeds self-censorship. Costs and benefits should be considered in a holistic, balanced manner, so that penny pinching does not eclipse blazing non-financial wins your proposal may offer. For this reason, I advise organizations against establishing arbitrary hurdle rates (e.g. “To be considered, you proposal need to show IRR of 20 per cent”).
27. No business case or proposal is complete without a risk assessment for each of the alternatives presented. Consider both likelihood and impact of each risk and be realistic in your assessment.
28. The key to adequate risk assessment is a stakeholder analysis done well.
29. Be prepared to discuss the business case in three different settings: a 30-second status update, a 5-minute brief with questions and answers, and a 30-minute presentation. I also advise managers, project managers and team leads to be ready for these three types of communication at all times. Caveat: there is usually a fair warning for the presentation, so that you have the time to think it through and prepare.
30. When you present your proposal, questions will be about implementation are likely. The popular topics are resources and timing. Often, you will already have explored these items, which will enable you to provide an informed answer. If you haven’t, think before the session how you would respond. Answers that don’t go well: “We don’t know yet”, “We will decide later”, or “We haven’t thought of that. ”
Here is an article on a surprisingly amateurish approach to consulting.
If you are considering consulting as a profession, please remember that running a solo practice is like running any other business. This shouldn’t be seen as an avocation.
Nine out of ten business cases that cross my desk contain material errors, which often lead to incorrect recommendations worth tens of millions of dollars. If you ever wondered why two thirds of change initiatives fail, here’s your answer: many of them are based on a fallacy, a case that does not exist.
The issues run the gamut from poor understanding of objectives to complete disregard for the established methods of economic analysis, from strategic ignorance to financial ignorance.
Decisions on outsourcing and insourcing are also not immune from this flawed approach. In fact, many of them are deficient for one specific reason which I will outline here.
I have just finished presenting a teleconference on time management for managers and executives, titled “The Closed Door Policy. ” We talked about 11 reasons behind the widespread phenomenon of being chronically busy and a couple of dozens ways, neatly organized in three categories to get one’s life back.
Here are the reasons for so many people being in this pickle:
- You are a funnel. Nothing happens unless you know about it or have to give a go-ahead.
- Your choice of decision making approach is often incorrect.
- You lack adequate support structure (people, tools, processes)
- Your priorities are not clear: you either don’t know what to do next or everything is a priority. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
- You believe that you need to constantly do “real work” because thinking and strategizing is not really work at all.
- You do things that don’t need to be done.
- There is a lack of trust between you and people around you: peers, subordinates and superiors.
- You constantly look for confirmation and consensus building where it is not required.
- You are holding on to your baggage of an expert (typical for an engineer who has been promoted to a manager).
- You cannot say “no” to anyone.
- You procrastinate.
In the past two weeks, I have been contacted as many times for reference checks for my former employees. Both are bright energetic people who are doing well and obviously moving up in their careers.
Reference check is a must today. I always conduct them, advise my clients to do so and am always happy to serve as a reference when appropriate.
So, two calls for the same purpose, but what a difference.
Caller #1 reached out asking to set some time aside and called as agreed, sharp. He asked meaningful, intelligent questions and, when appropriate, looked for clarification or elaboration. It was a pleasant conversation for me and a valuable one for the hiring company.
Caller #2 sounded bored out of her mind. She mistook the applicant’s gender and did not know who I was. She had a list of questions, which she read in a monotone voice. Not once did she ask as follow up question or requested elaboration. It was a clerk ticking boxes, nothing more. The questions were as generic and vapid as they get. The ten minutes I spent on the phone with this woman were painfully long for me and of limited use to the hiring company.
Organizations often size people by the tasks they performed, not how they performed it. It would appear that the quality of work, the outcome, is of no consequence.
I have news for them. Result is the only thing that matters. Not the years of service or the size of the team; not the project budget or certifications or schooling. Just that – results.
The people who work for you today, are they more like caller #1 or #2? Do you hire to deliver results or to conform to procedures? I hope I made my point.
This is a one-stop post for three Knowledge Management experts I recently interviewed.
Follow these links to original posts to listen to these interviews online:
At least I found it at Canon Canada.
On a Thursday my camera suddenly developed a very peculiar liking of all things purple. Anything that was not purple already, came out decidedly grapy. The only thing missing was the artificial Concord grape smell, commonly found in candy.
The following day (Friday), the camera was couriered to Canon Canada, where it arrived on Monday morning.
The repaired camera was delivered to our doorstep on Wednesday. Cost of repair of a five year old camera to me: nothing. Apparently, they had been an advisory for some potentially faulty components and Canon was replacing them on their own dime, whether the product was on warranty or not.
Good job, Canon.