Archive for the ‘Strategy & Leadership’ Category

The So-Called “Round Table”—The Appearance of Equality Doesn’t Guarantee Equality

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Are you among participants in negotiations where you sit at a “round table?” The “round table” is convened whenever the aim is to discuss something free from the constraints of hierarchy. The seating arrangement at a rectangular table always gives an indication of who is in charge—the individual at the head of the table or in the middle, according to the occasion and the gathering. A round table is supposed to signify that everyone seated there is equally empowered.

But that’s usually not the case. In television broadcasts of political gatherings, have you ever considered, for example, how cameras and national flags are arranged? Have you ever considered where entrances and exits to the room are or who sits next to whom? Of course there’s a hierarchy, even at a round table, and naturally, everyone present knows what it is.

Don’t let yourself be bullied: There are inequalities in every negotiation. If you want to grow, you must be aware of this and use it to your advantage.

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

Ready, Set, Grow! This Week: The Surest Way to Leverage Growth is . . .

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Ready Set Grow
. . . to concentrate your efforts on straightening out your weaknesses.

As prelude: If you or your company has weaknesses that fundamentally inhibit growth, straighten them out. And quickly.


  • As part of internationalizing your company, you want to establish an international management team, but you speak English only poorly. Learn English.
  • Your customers will no longer accept your production tolerances. Take remedial action.
  • Your production costs are uncompetitive, and a premium price is not feasible. Lower your costs.

However, spend no more time than absolutely necessary to straighten out weaknesses. If that is all you do, you’ll be chasing the market. Bet on your strengths, both your personal strengths and those of your company. To outpace the competition, it’s far more effective to build on strengths than to straighten out weaknesses.

You will only make lasting gains over the competition if you know your strengths, and make use of, multiply them. On the one hand, doing so focuses your efforts; on the other, it’s gratifying. We often find this to be true when we huddle with our clients who make it their business to identify and multiply core competencies. It is not uncommon for a considerable growth-spurt to come out of such a meeting. Focus instead of spreading yourself too thinly. Strengthen strengths instead of straightening out weaknesses. And that’s how growth happens.

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

Marriott and RitzCarlton: When Ordinary Tarnishes Luxury

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

During my most recent stay at the RitzCarlton in Naples, Florida, it had become obvious what happens when an average brand—Marriott, in this case— takes over and dominates a luxury brand like RitzCarlton. This time, there were no slippers in my suite—offered only by request. Shoes left out for the overnight shoe-polishing service weren’t returned in an elegant, cloth bag, but in a tacky,.plastic one. And even the piano player, who always performed afternoons in the lobby, had disappeared. The piano remained, abandoned. The building also was in need of renovation in some places. Some guests pointed out that they now had to ask that the shampoo, shower gel etc. be refilled or replaced; in the past, these amenities were replenished daily, regardless of how little had been used.

Ordinary does not comport with luxury. Too often, average brands attempt to seek their salvation in lowering prices—which also doesn’t lead to growth in the mainstream, but that’s a story for another time. But luxury is not “common sense.” Luxury lives on excess, on rational extravagance. Luxury yields high revenues, but it also carries costs that would bring tears to the eyes of a comptroller. And exorbitant prices are paid for all of this. When I pay high prices and receive average service, I feel made to look foolish, and I turn elsewhere.

Still, RitzCarlton has a brand bonus. We often give these strong brands, with which we have had good experiences, the benefit of the doubt. Marriott would do well not to let RitzCarlton slide into mediocrity or, more positively stated, to give the brand the latitude it needs in order to develop. Marriott management can play the little game of lowering costs in their own house.

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

Ready, Set, Grow! This Week: Lead Consistently

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Ready Set Grow
Leadership themes continue to be a component of our projects to create profitable growth. It is systematically managed weakly, inconsistently, or not at all. In particular, inconsistency is what leads to confusion in the organization. On that point, a direct quote from an employee at a recent project: “Actually, I could do whatever I wanted; it wouldn’t matter, anyway. Say no more.

Leadership needs a direction. If the direction (strategy) is not clear, it can’t be sensibly managed. From the opposite perspective, if the strategy is clear, there is no excuse for inconsistent, directionless leadership. That is why we always take pains to dust off the strategy first of all. As a result, the underlying excuse for weak leadership vanishes.

A lack of consistency in leadership—and a leadership culture that leaves much to be desired—are significant brakes on growth. Leadership is taught a only a few colleges, but it is presumed in business. What are the standards for good leadership? How do managers behave when a good friend in the company makes a mistake compared to someone else with whom he is not acquainted? Is the same standard applied? Are people aware of consequences, and are they adhered to? Leadership is not a by-product.

Provide for consistent, directed leadership. And don’t be like Steve Jobs. To a couple of department heads who came to him with a dispute, he said: “Settle it, or both of you are out of here!”

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

Hairdressers and Motivation

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

I still hear, over and over, that you need to motivate employees with good wages. Repeating this proposition ad infinitum doesn’t make it any more correct. Motivation comes from within. Management must create a framework for ensuring that employees’ intrinsic motivation can expand. To that end, management must show the way, expand opportunities, foster talent. Management must not motivate.

And certainly not with money. Wages are important, but as a hygiene factor, as an expression of expectations, and as a reward for achievement (the latter is easily forgotten). A lot of money doesn’t mean a lot of motivation. Wages for length of service don’t help much, either. Performance is what counts.

And now to hairdressers (and barbers). There continues to be a steady flow of people into the hairdressing profession. There are world championships in hairdressing. Many hairdressers, men and women alike, dream of someday having their own salon. Or they are quite satisfied merely to work with people every day. That cannot be accounted for by wages. Ask your hairdresser or barber sometime, why he or she took up the profession. I do so regularly, whenever someone new cuts my hair. Money plays no role. And raising the minimum wage doesn’t alter the situation.

Evidently, motivation has something to do with depth of interest or commitment. Now that may bitterly disappoint mechanistic executives, but it’s true. You have a duty.

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

“Make Your Password Secure”

Friday, May 16th, 2014

Whenever a business is hacked and its data stolen, the same advice/requirement reappears. Users must take greater care in choosing their passwords. It should not be too easy to guess. It should contain numbers, special characters, and other symbols so that it cannot be hacked. Constantly forgotten (or not even noticed) in this situation is the fact that a company’s database, once hacked, makes available to those who did the break in every single password, regardless of how complicated it might be.

This conflates things that have nothing to do with each other. The same thing occurs regularly in businesses: When some big thing happens, one detail is plucked from the mess that has absolutely nothing to do with it. For example: A competitor poaches a succession of your key employees. Some clever someone will observe that you simply should have paid them more. Or: A sales initiative misses in every respect, costs money, and is plainly unprofitable. The idea will occur to someone that the right thing to do now is to cut costs.

You can expand the list for yourself. And in every kind of circumstance that confronts us, be on the lookout for that someone who would establish a link between things that have nothing to do with each other.

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

Strategic Challenges. Today: Caran d’Ache

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

If you know Caran d’Ache, the producer of writing instruments (truly phenomenal products), then you’ll know what I’m getting at. If you don’t know Caran d’Ache, then, you might want to have a look at  the company’s web site or – better yet – at this remarkable YouTube video about the “Caelograph”, a writing instrument of the highest order from the Caran d’Ache product line, to get a picture of the strategic balancing-act the company performs.

From colored pencils worth just a few cents to Caelographs costing more than $135,000, from grade school to the carriage trade – that is a broad product-, sales-, and cultural spectrum. Here it’s critical to cleanly separate market segments and to ensure that the brand isn’t stretched thin by centrifugal forces at both ends of the portfolio. This kind of dilution poses considerable risk, because it usually won’t be noticed right away. By the time it’s detected, the brand has become so misshapen that reconstructing it will take a considerable amount of time.

Many of our clients must ask themselves the same questions that confront Caran d’Ache: What is the appropriate product mix How do we grow sensibly, without distorting the contours of the business or sacrificing profitability? Do we have the right market-access? Do we have the appropriate team on board? Do we even have the right customers, and do we know what their needs really are?

Please note: At the moment, Caran d’Ache is still doing its thing very well, but the family-owned business, with its extreme spread across segments, offers a classic example of the kinds of strategic challenges to be overcome. In this respect, by the way, the Caran d’Ache example fits splendidly into my lecture “Strategy Consulting” at the SRH College for Logistics and the Economy.

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



The Absurdity of External Motivation

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The chatter about external motivation never stops. We’ll try to remedy that here: Motivation from the outside is neither possible nor necessary. Executives should inspire, not motivate. They should discover and develop talent, and not stage a walking-on-hot-coals kind of theater. Employees are highly motivated when they start a job. Take pains to see that they remain so.

And the talk – I nearly called it “blather” – about lazy youngsters or young adults, who only want to have fun and not to accomplish anything, can’t be allowed to stand. As a professor at the SRH College for Logistics and the Economy in Hamm, Germany, I am really quite close to young adults and their level of performance – which every now and then, I see as right noteworthy. First, you don’t get good grades from me as a gift. Second, I don’t give them for rote learning. And yet, consistently there are students who have earned a well-justified “A” from me. That comes only through internal motivation, which is where achievement originates.

Instead, let’s seek out talent, help it to find itself, and give it the structure it needs to achieve excellence. Is everyone willing to do that? No, but we can change those people only to a very limited extent. First and foremost, this is not about “motivation.” That’s too trivial.

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

How Strategically Are You Thinking?

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Fortunately, the number of people who think that “strategy” is pure hokum – this was until a few years ago still the well-established view, especially among medium-size companies – has waned significantly. We hear much more often that you have to think “strategically.” Indeed, the concept sometimes suffers from overuse.

To think strategically means much more than grappling with the competition and your own products. To think strategically also means grappling with global developments, changes in social values, and technological trends, to name only three dimensions.

  • How much does it influence your strategy that women are increasingly found in more responsible positions of leadership?
  • With respect to your strategy, what about the change in values as seen in the acceptance of diminished privacy ?
  • Or with increased purchasing power in far-away countries?
  • How is the dramatic decline in the price of technology affecting your strategy – as of late, for example, a small 3-D printer can be had for $830.

I could ask dozens of additional questions. And indeed, that’s what I do in retreats with our clients. At such times, we have fruitful exchanges about such things and discuss various assumptions and their implications

Do you think that all of this doesn’t impinge on your strategy, that you would rather stick to your local knitting? Fine. But don’t be surprised if you are overtaken at the speed of light by those who systematically pose these questions – as well as others like them – as they manage their businesses. Do the answers to questions like these always have immediate implications? No, but they immediately take the business to a new realm of thought. You may very well be minding the store. But in the medium term, it might be the wrong store.

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

Think in Generations

Monday, April 7th, 2014

In conversation with an entrepreneur, the majority shareholder of one of our client companies, we soon began talking about seemingly inevitable short-term thinking. According to this entrepreneur, his father had taught him to think in generations, not in years, or even in quarters.

It would be decidedly helpful to many companies if they were to start thinking this way (again). While exchange-listed companies may even be “required” to deliver quarterly numbers in 0rder to look good – frequently one of the reasons that companies delist themselves from the stock market – family-owned businesses are under no obligation whatever to hand over such numbers.

We prefer to talk about content. We speak of generations, not quarters.

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