Before there was an Amazon, there was the paperback version – the Sears catalog. Started in 1893, Sears was America’s top retailer for nearly 8 decades. At one time, 3 out 4 Americans would shop at a Sears in the course of a year and Sears’ gross sales would account for 1% of the United State’s gross national product. Sears was big business and now they’re barely limping along. What happened?
This statement from a 1978 top secret executive report might give us some clues:
“We are not a fashion store. We are not a store for the whimsical, nor the affluent. We are not a discounter… We are not a store that anticipates… And we must all look on what we are, and pronounce it good! And seek to extend it. And not to be swayed from it by the attraction of other markets, no matter how enticing they might be.”
Well, they weren’t kidding when they said they’re not a store that anticipates.
Share the online slideshow in your next meeting and discuss the following with your team:
What did Sears not see?
What innovations helped Wal-Mart win?
If you were Sears’ CEO back in 1978, what would your strategy have been?
If you were Sears’ CEO today, what would your strategy be?
What do you think, does our company watch for milestones or enact them? How about our team?
What can we do better to anticipate the future?
Give each team member a index card and on one side have them write down a future that they would like to see unfold. For example, a team member might identify a future where they complete a project successfully or they might see a future where they make it to President’s Club.
On the back of the card have them write down the steps, or milestones, that will enable that future to occur.
Finally, challenge them to use their business acumen to think of ways that they can deliberately enact the steps that they’ve identified (not just watch them pass by).
You may want to review these cards periodically in future meetings.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 88 and read the section: Anticipation and Innovation
A group of computer engineers were challenged to, no surprise here, figure out ways to support their company’s initiative to cut costs.
One would think that a group of geeky computer engineers would come up with some new fandangled technology or some complex algorithm, but instead of overthinking a problem, or worse, overthinking a solution… they came up with a simple idea that was easy to implement. In fact, the popular TV show MythBusters proved that their idea really does save money. Further, the engineer’s innovation helped support their company’s environmental initiatives.
See if you can guess who this company is…
In between each slide have your team write down their guess of who they think the company is. Tell them that if they shout out their guess before the big reveal at the end they’ll be asked to pack up their stuff and security will escort them out (kidding, but seriously keep it to yourself). Once the slideshow is done, see who guessed the company first (and maybe offer the winner a prize). Then discuss the following as a team…
What are some of the pitfalls of overthinking problems and solutions? You may want to list their answers on a whiteboard.
How can our team avoid some of these pitfalls?
What role does creativity play in solving problems?
In what ways can simple solutions have an unexpected impact on our team’s success?
Encourage everyone to make a list of problems that your team can solve. Then challenge them to use their business acumen to think creatively about potential solutions that are simple and easy to implement. Or, if the problem requires a complex solution, challenge them to think of ways to make the process or solution less complex.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 2 and read the section: What Business Acumen Can Do For You
At its heart “business acumen” means knowing how your company makes money, and making better decisions around the money you make, no matter your role.
A company that doesn’t know how it makes money isn’t likely to make more.
When we teach people to “see the big picture,” we’ll often ask a pretty simple question, “How does your company, specifically, make money?” Too often the responses are laden with overly complex pontifications about some statistic that’s pretty meaningless… but hey, it sounds smart.
The bottom line: Avoid unnecessary complexity and remember what Einstein said…
“Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible – But Not Simpler.”
Pull up, or print out, the Dilbert Comic Strip and discuss the following with your team:
What do you think, do we make our business and/or our jobs more complex than they need to be? In what ways?
Sometimes business and our jobs are complex, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s the impact of unnecessary complexity?
Are there complexities, such as an overburdensome process or a term that only makes sense to our team, that we can eliminate?
Share the quote from Einstein. What do you think he means? How can we apply this thinking to our jobs?
As a team lets try and describe in one sentence what our team does and in a second sentence describe how we contribute to our company’s money making process.
the take away
Don’t avoid complexity, part of having business acumen is being able to focus on practical actions while staring complexity in the eye… and hopefully you want to be trusted, and called upon, to help solve our team’s biggest and most complex problems. At the same time, don’t get mired in unnecessary complexities and inconsequential details. Stay focused on the problem at hand and quickly filter out anything that’s not relevant or helpful.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) start on page 6 and read to the end of page 9, how can business acumen help us cut through business complexity?
In 1985 Coca-Cola did the unthinkable – they changed their formula to challenge Pepsi’s surge in the marketplace . It didn’t go over too well. Thousands-upon-thousands of furious customers called Coca-Cola demanding that they bring back their old Coke. Letters were sent to the CEO, Roberto Goizueta, addressing him as, “Dear Mr. Dodo…” To celebrate, Pepsi gave their employees the day off – they figured they had won the cola wars. And to this day, Coke’s formula change is regarded as one of the worst business decisions of all time. But was it?
Coca-Cola’s executives moved fast. Within 79 days they announced the return of original Coca-Cola. So not only did Coca-Cola take a risk with New Coke, they took, quite possibly, a greater risk… admitting that they got it wrong. It worked! Since 1985 Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola in the US and around the world (today Pepsi’s not even close).
“If you take risks, you may still fail; if you do not take risks, you will surely fail. The greatest risk of all is to do nothing.”
CEO of The Coca-Cola Company: 1980-1997
Watch the 1985 New Coke video as a team and then discuss the following:
What did Coca-Cola get right, what did they get wrong?
What do you think about that last statement: “The greatest risk of all is to do nothing.”? Don’t you think Coca-Cola wished they had never introduced New Coke?
Coca-Cola’s CEO didn’t fire anyone over the New Coke debacle, instead he encouraged employees to continue to take “intelligent risks”. What do you think he means by “intelligent risks”?
What are some of the positive and negative consequences of taking risks?
Where do think our team is? Do we avoid taking risks, do we take too many risks, or do we take intelligent risks?
What are some of the risks our team has taken recently? Discuss the positives and negatives of these risks.
What obstacles prevent us from taking risks? How can we remove these obstacles?
What are the unspoken consequences of making the wrong bet on our team?
the take a way…
Challenge your team to to do an Internet search for the worst business decisions of all time. Encourage everyone to share their findings in your next team meeting, and together use your business acumen to create your own Top 10 list of failed business decisions.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 94 and read about how Toyota made intelligent risks to help them get back on track after an onslaught of setbacks.
Businessweek recently featured a company on their cover as being, “The Cheapest, Happiest, Company in The World.” The hallways of their corporate offices are lined in faded blue carpet that looks like it needs to be replaced, their boardroom is furnished with faux-wood tables, they don’t give out shopping bags, and their shopping centers offer very little frills (other than an occasional free sample).
Despite their fundamental focus on thrift, this company pays their hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour and eighty-eight percent of their employees have company sponsored health insurance. By comparison, their largest competitor pays around $12.67 an hour. The bottom-line: they treat their employees well in the belief that a happier work environment will result in a more profitable company. That formula seems to be working, their sales have grown 39% and their stock price has doubled since 2009.
Who’s the company? Watch the slide show below and see if you can guess.
In between each slide have your team write down their guess of who they think the company is. Tell them that if they blabber out a guess before the end of the slideshow they’ll be given a pink slip (kidding, but seriously keep it to yourself). Once the slideshow is done, see who guessed the company first (and maybe offer the winner a prize). Then discuss the following as a team…
What do you think about the following statements:
“We know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”
“…it’s about creating value, about treating your employees and customers well, and respecting your vendors – and ultimately rewarding your shareholders in the process.”
As you think about our team… how frugal are we? Are we thrifty in the right areas? Too cheap in some areas?
As a team how can we treat our customers better? Remember that your customers include your team members and colleagues from different departments.
the take away…
Choose a company that you either admire or buy from and assess whether or not your chosen company does a good job at balancing profits and people. Encourage everyone to share their findings in your next team meeting, and together use your business acumen to make a list of good and bad examples of balancing profits and people.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 81 and read the section: Employees: The Foundation of Success