Expand the Market
For some reason I have an affinity for Milwaukee. Maybe because it is directly across Lake Michigan from where I grew up. Maybe because I thought Midwest Airlines was a great airline, until last year when they dropped a number of cities from their schedule. Perhaps I like Milwaukee because I once had project in Waupaca, WI. Whatever the reason, I read the Milwaukee Journal online because it has some interesting stories on business and companies that have been around for some time.
One of these is Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. A recent article related the changes in this 90-year old industrial-grade power tool manufacturer. Today it’s an American-Chinese company with a new business culture of developing new products and bringing them quickly to market.
Here are three key points that I got from the story:
- “In a down economy (or any economy), if you don’t deliver new products (innovation) and expand the economy, you’re dead.”
- Develop new products (and services) that carve new markets and create previously non-existent demand.
- It is not enough to make incremental change….today’s markets require significant new and major change.
New is the secret word….businesses/organizations can’t rest on the past.
From reading the article….Milwaukee Tool is going to stay in the game by quickly developing new and better power tools.
The Real Meaning
In the last post, I wrote about right things and values. In my experience, words often lose their real meaning because they become buzz words. Nice words to throw around, place on a plaque or put into the annual report. They are used so often….that their impact and real meaning are lost in the clutter of what’s really important.
There are two basic requirements in the leadership and management of businesses/organizations:
- Clearly define your values
- Act on your values
Here are the values that guided our family business:
- Seek out well made products in a medium price range
- Sell the products honestly
- Deliver the products with care
- Stand behind the products regardless of warranty
- Establish a solid customer connection
These values along with our vision to help make each home nicer guided our decision making, how we related to the market and what we did to make each employee a part of the business.
In reflecting back over the years, we did a great job. There still is honor in our name and the people that helped make it all happen.
What makes the difference?
Why are some businesses/organizations better than the others?
The answer is rather simple I believe….yet for many business/organizations complicated. Great businesses do the right things….have the right people on board….are committed to a clear purpose and focus and place an extraordinary value on people and customers. A recent interview in Fast Company with the Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal, reinforced what it takes to be great. Costco is the country’s fourth largest retailer, opening its first warehouse 25 years ago. Costco consistently gets excellent marks in Consumer surveys for value and quality. While that is just good business sense….it also pays its employees an average of $17 an hour and covers 90% of health insurance costs for both full-timers and part-timers. This is doing the right thing.
The long term success of any organization, depends on three key components:
- Value people
- Value customers
- Value the right things
As we encounter economic challenges in the next months….the better organizations having clear and right values are preparing for tomorrow….the folks that had their values in the wrong place just won’t be around.
Seth Godin wrote:
“The reason it’s so difficult for people in traditional industries to embrace new models online is that the transition isn’t structured in an orderly way.”
I believe there are two important tasks that organizations have a difficulty with in making transitions. One, they get caught up in the tangible stuff that they do. Second, they fail to understand that the “soft stuff”, the intangibles like purpose, values, people are the real reason for business/organization success. What I have seen is that great businesses and organizations consistently reinforce the “soft stuff.“
SAS, in my hometown, is one of those businesses that understands the “soft stuff” is as important as the software that it sells. SAS, the world’s largest privately held software firm, ranks 20th in the new Fortune Magazine list of the “100 Best Companies” for which to work.
In all of the seminars that I do, I make sure that people need to know how to it. A leader’s job is not just to figure things out, but to inspire people to want to participate. We all want a positive outcome.
How to do it!
- Chart a new strategy
- Get the right people onboard
- Encourge the team (morale!)
- Focus on keeping direction
It’s the Brand
Every business has or should have a brand.
Brand = A guarantee of a very positive experience when we use a product or service.
A brand is how customers first see a product or business. The brand has a great influence on how a customer makes a buying decision. MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King sell pretty much the same products….yet each brand projects a different image of their primary product….a hamburger. And customers make their choice on how they see that image/brand.
In a Retailing Today post:
A recent survey by Interbrand Design Forum showed that Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot and Target in that order, were among the most valuable retail brands in the United States.
” Brand is more important than ever, as retailers with a well-positioned brand have the opportunity to thrive and seize a bigger piece of the pie in terms of customers. During a period of increased competition and lowered sales, brands that have successful propositions, such as Walmart, and offer an engaging shopping experience, like Best Buy, will come out on top.”
Every business/organization needs to develop its own unique brand. What your brand stands for determines customer response and support. Provide an outstanding product/service with superior customer care and commit to a long term outlook.
A Required Skill
I participated in a meeting today that thankfully lasted only an hour and accomplished very little. The group was supposedly a “team” to carry out tasks. The tasks hopefully geared to accomplish the mission. So why am I cranky? For starters, this group being a team is instead a committee that talks about issues rather than setting its focus to do them. And secondly, the new “organization leader” dominated the meeting. The facilitator was somewhat less than proactive in facilitating.
I believe any business/organization requires an effective leader. Yet, one of the best traits of leadership is listening. Even better as stated by John Maxwell….
“Great leaders are first listeners, than learners, then leaders. “
This entire group (not just this team) is in dire need of leadership….after today it seems like it is still in need.
Admiral Mike Mullen
Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff and former Chief Naval Officer. He was interviewed on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. The interviews took place over an eight day period as he traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Getting to the star level in the military is a strong accomplishment. For the most part, it takes superb leadership qualities, excellent people skills, and knowing the political process. As in any other organization, there are a few folks that slip through cracks. How in the heck did they get one star (or make CEO) much less three or even four?
From the interview, I think Mike Mullen is the real deal leader, that the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff requires. In my time in the Air Force, I also saw excellent leadership. What made successful projects was the combination of leadership and ability. The best leaders knew how to guide those that did the real technical stuff. And than put it all together to accomplish the mission, whether it was to deploy the next generation ICBM weapon system or advance the state-of-the art in reentry vehicle development.
All the services spend a great deal of time in educating their leaders. I would guess that developing great leadership ability is a big part of that effort. I listened recently to an interview of a pretty successful leader in the non-profit world. Here is what he said:
“I spent every extra dime on leadership books and conferences so that I understood exactly what it takes to be an effective leader.Than I took what I learned and applied it to what I was doing.”
From my observations, taking the time to be a student of leadership is what separates the average business or organization from the very good. And being average or a little above average (unless your are from Minnesota – Lake Wobegon) isn’t good enough!