Archive for January, 2014

The Difference Between a Business and a House

Friday, January 31st, 2014

In my articles, I’m always using the image of a house as a metaphor for a business. You wouldn’t come up with the idea – or, if you did, it wouldn’t be successful – of installing roof trusses before before building the top floor. No one would store interior doors in an open shell of a building, or hand drywall before the electrical wiring is installed.

It’s exactly the same in a business. I mean it makes sense to optimize a process only when you have a strategy in hand, and the development of a strategy is significantly simplified by having an entrepreneurial vision. Furthermore, a value statement must be compatible with the strategy; otherwise it will misfire. Yet there is an essential difference between acting like an entrepreneur and building a house. One of them is tangible; the other, not exactly. It follows that the latter is more easily fixable. The implication: Although strategy or vision underpin behavior, this foundation can be added later – something that, in the case of a house, appears to be difficult, at the very least.

So, if you discover that your ambitions for growth lack a foundation, or that it’s too flimsy, or that it’s falling apart, do not hesitate: It is never too late to substantially strengthen your foundation.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

The Hope Principle–a Fallacy

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Most people are good-natured. Perhaps too good-natured. With the result that employee’s blunders are systematically tolerated, incorrect deliveries from businesses are systematically endured, product defects tolerated more or less without complaint. And shares are issued by companies whose business model has yet to be proven a performer.

The hope principle doesn’t work in business life. Employees repeatedly deliver poor performance despite corrective efforts, have no business being there. When business fail to make deliveries on time over a long period of time, there is no cause for hope that they will change anytime soon. And when software firms deliver so-called banana software – the kind that “ripens” in the hands the customer – we have no hope that this will undergo a transformation, at least not as long as the products continue to be purchased. And when a company steadily generates losses, it clearly lacks a basis for its business.

An example of a “business model”: Zalando, an on-line clothing vendor in the UK, happily and repeatedly claims that it is growing especially quickly. Two minor snags: 1. The considerable minus recorded in their profit-and-loss statement. 2. the number of returns which, according to analysts, is somewhere in 70- to 80-percent range– and that greatly contributes, in a negative sense, to point number 1. Despite the fact that the company, to all appearances, is an attractive brand, we shouldn’t forget that it generates a loss. Moreover, it’s unclear how partnering with an outfit whose business is returns could profit anyone but a third-party logistics provider. Bottom line: As long as there’s a Zalando, buy shares in DHL. (This is not an official stock recommendation!) You might object that Amazon operated at a loss for years. But Zalando is no Amazon.

Don’t attach yourself the hope principle. It inhibits you from seeking out fields that are more rewarding.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Mandat Growth Tip of the Day: Teach Instead of Issuing Orders

Monday, January 27th, 2014

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This sentence from Mrs. Dymond, written by Anne Isabella Ritchie in the late 19th century (no, it’s not a Chinese proverb!), leads us to our focus for today:

Teach instead of giving orders.

We note with some regularity that managers complain about the quality of some employees’ work. But if we look behind the curtain, we see that employees by-and-large do what is expected of them. They follow the instructions they have been given, and they will receive – if anything – assistance for only this one circumstance. There is no room for development, or for contributing their own ideas or solutions.

What can you do? Today, look around your business: Where is there too much situational help given, too much instruction, too few questions asked, too little taught? Orders are necessary in an emergency but, as a rule, a business gives up potential when it relies narrowly on instructions that are merely to be executed. Put your business’s cumulative intelligence to work and bind your employees to you more strongly. Teach them to fish.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Mandat Growth Tip of the Day: Find the Cause

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Your focus today: Don’t merely address symptoms of a problem. Instead, look for the cause.

It’s a sin of some significance to spend time dealing with problems symptomatically. We know this from doctors. The patient goes to the doctor with a complaint and the doctor is under pressure to provide relief. Frequently, the search for the cause is given short shrift. Through medication or other therapy, the trouble goes away – at first. But it resurfaces at the next opportunity, often worse than before. (Incidentally, veterinarians are under unique pressure – from the patient’s owner.)

A shoulder that becomes dislocated repeatedly won’t be cured either with painkillers or by resetting it ten times. By the same token, clients’ problems caused by your products or services are remedied only through permanent, effective repair. Problems are intrinsic to business. Looking for the cause is the only thing that helps in these situations. Otherwise, the issue reappears on the agenda time and again.

What important issue – one that has bothered you for a long time – do you want to get to the bottom of this week, no matter what? Deal with one issue and probe its causes. Don’t be satisfied with the obvious or with reassurances. Bore into it. Conceive an effective “therapy.” Solve the problem instead of putting it off. You will see how in this way, little by little, you can dispose of such issues. The trick: Always one issue at a time.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Business and Mountain Climbing

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

As is well known, there is much about how to behave in business that can be learned from this sport. Team spirit, leadership, high standards. That not all are equal, but that there is a ranking, climbing (or descending) into another league. You can make all of this a topic of discussion when the conversation turns to growth. Today: business and mountain climbing.

I love being in the mountains. However at the moment, I don’t do much climbing because of other priorities. But I have never forgotten lessons gained in the past about how to conduct oneself appropriately on a mountain. Here are three of them:

  1. Know what you’re doing: In the mountains, that means to examine a map of the region in advance, to study its features, and to pay attention to weather conditions. It means to plot your climb realistically – and to have a plan B. Preparation is the be-all and end-all.
  2. Be prepared to turn back: A change in the weather can always occur. Fissures can appear. A cabin can be snowed under, something that offers no solace. You may become ill. Don’t be overambitious. I can remember at least one climb that we abandoned. And I can remember a climb on which one of our three-member climbing party held back – because he dared not continue – as the remaining two of us climbed to the summit. Both decisions were logical and correct.
  3. Don’t rely on the others: It is negligent to rely on others to whom you are roped. Incompetents roped together may create a sense of security. But this can be treacherous, because you are still roped to a bunch of ignoramuses. Watch out! In an emergency, you must be in a position to help others – and even to proceed on your own.

I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the lessons for business.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

“It’s Not My Fault and Here’s Why I’m Right!”–Episode 5: “My Colleague Misunderstood”

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Many readers have delighted in this column since I began publishing it. Why not learn from something humorous?

And so, today.

Episode 5 – An Airline: “My Colleague Misunderstood.”

On a flight from Düsseldorf to Nice, my wife and I ordered something to eat from an amiable steward. My food came, but hers did not, probably because mine (curried sausage) was simpler than hers (something Thai). Upon further investigation, everyone got the meal that they had ordered – except for my wife. Nor did this escape the flight attendant who was serving us. Furthermore, we determined that a woman in the next row was surprised at receiving a meal. Apparently, she hadn’t ordered anything, but she proceeded to eat the food anyway.

  • Flight attendant ( questioning look): “Did you order something?” (She ought to have known that, since the order was written on a slip of paper that her colleague had filled out earlier.)
  • My wife ( amiably): “Yes. I ordered what the woman in the next row mistakenly received and began to eat.”
  • Woman in the next row ( busted!): “Here. Would you like it?” (Oh, a partially-eaten meal. Nice of you, but no thank you verrrry much.)
  • Flight attendant ( quickly distancing herself): “Oh, my colleague misunderstood. We can’t serve you any food now. We’re going to land soon.”  – and disappeared with a speed that would do an airplane proud.

Her colleague had written down the order correctly. She had botched it, knew she had, and blamed her colleague for the mistake. All said and done, it wasn’t that serious. We did soon land (about an hour later). Fine, then, everything was back in order.

A shared curried sausage later, and this tale was a natural for my blog. The lesson: Never, ever put anything off on a colleague! That never goes down well.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Mandat Growth Tip of the Day: Look at/in the Calendar

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Does your calendar this year look just like it did last year? How goes it with your “good intentions?” This year – before you once again come to the point of regretting that you have not, in fact, implemented your good intentions about time- and meeting-management – adjust things now, at the beginning of the year. Pull out of meetings where your presence is not required. Stop participating in organizations that you don’t enjoy. Free some space on your calendar for thinking strategically. The year is still young.

 

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Mandat Growth Tip of the Day: Generate Some Interest

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Your focus today: Generate some interest among your employees.

I very often observe that in many work environments, whether a business or a non-profit, work is almost the only topic. Not that I would advocate gossiping about trivia during business hours, but even during breaks, it’s almost entirely about “work.” That’s too bad, because conversation about things other than “work” not only broadens an individual’s perspective but also strengthens the web of relationships within the company.

Today, encourage your employees to talk about things besides work – during breaks, in the kitchenette, walking the corridors. Stimulate conversation: What’s your view of Europe? What do you think of the new post that Pope Francis has taken? What do we hope to learn from the Voyager space probe when it reaches the edge of our solar system, as it soon will? What are the ramifications of . . .? You know what I mean.

Work and serve honorably, but consider the bigger picture as well. Doing so will make the entire enterprise even more exciting.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

How Well Do Your Employees Represent Your Company?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

As I write this, I am sitting in the waiting room of a well-known vehicle-service company for maintenance and a general inspection to be conducted – time enough to write a couple of technical articles and, once again, to form an impression of a company’s culture.

The following scenes played out:

  1. My initial conversation with the employee who accepts vehicles for service is interrupted several times by the incessant-ringing of his telephone. A pinnacle is reached when the phone rings and he mumbles, “An important customer. Excuse me, please.” Then he disappears into his office. I am astonished. At least he’s friendly.
  2. The receptionist, wishing to ease my wait, indicates that I can help myself to water that’s available or to coffee from the coffee machine. Coffee costs 50 cents. But my wallet is in the car, so the receptionist lends me 50 cents so that I don’t have to dash across the courtyard.
  3. It’s raining buckets, a real deluge. An employee gets a telephone call informing him that the basement of his house is flooded. He would like to go home, which a colleague makes possible by taking over his work for the day.
  4. An employee comes into the waiting room and shouts loudly to his colleague that for the umpteenth time, something’s gone wrong and that he’s fed up with working like this. The customer (me) is astonished.
  5. Another employee curses for all to hear. “The service advisor is so dumb and lame,” because “the service advisor” apparently didn’t provide all the information that the employee needs to process the order. I am astonished anew.

How do your employees talk to your customers? How do your employees behave toward one another? How are internal emails phrased? Do they appreciate each other or treat each other disrespectfully? Do they speak with each other or do they talk over each other? Take a close look at your company and deal with such misbehavior squarely and without delay.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.

Mandat Growth Tip of the Day: THE Most Important Thing

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Your focus today: Figure out what THE most important thing is, and concentrate on it completely.

Or course, in any given (work) day, there are many so-called “important” matters. But only one of them is THE most important – regardless of whether it is a professional matter or a private one. But with priority levels named “important,” “especially important,” “important and urgent,” and “do it now,” there will be no progress.

So decide: What is THE most important issue today? Not two topics, just one. What is THE issue that you want to bring to a conclusion, no matter what? Or, if you want to advance THE most important thing just one step: In terms of THE most important thing, what is the goal that should be reached today.

Focusing on THE most important thing will give you remarkable clarity. Try it out.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.