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Monday, 19 August 2013

Look Mum - No Hands!

Look Mum – No hands!
Remember your first attempt at trying to ride a bike without holding the handlebars, how did that end? Well why is it that most businesses have a tendency to try and replicate this in the business world? Businesses seem to consider where they have had success and believe they then understand how to do business in a new market? Should we just move into another region and do what we’ve been doing because it’s worked in one part of the world?  I get the sense that they honestly believe they can continue doing “business as usual” while expanding.  Of course, they arrive at this belief having made several assumptions and comparisons between their home market and the new market. There is only one assumption that has consistently held true.  Within any market a business plans to enter, there are always new growth opportunities.   However, whether they can translate what they do today, into a new market, will determine how they benefit from those opportunities. 
Our global economy is a small place.  We are all increasingly aware of the successes and failures of any business as they move beyond their home market.  Why is it then that business’s fail to learn from those who go before them?  Whether into new geographies or in adjacent markets? Consider for a moment you are looking to build a plane. Would you really start from zero knowing the lessons learned over the decades? Of course you wouldn’t! So why should business plans targeted at entry into new markets be any different?
Yes, there are some unique cases where businesses have managed to replicate what they have done in their home market successfully into a new market usually due to the market demand being so high for a unique product they are willing to overlook any localization requirements, but these are and remain incredibly isolated instances. There are a larger and more significant number of companies that have failed. Why?  An organizations complete failure to interpret the dynamics of the real opportunity and the behaviour of the market they are seeking to enter. As such, they have either had to sink significant spending into the opportunity, just to stay afloat, or change their operating model significantly to achieve some form of success.   Both activities result in a depreciated or even possibly a negative outcome.
I have seen countless businesses state they have identified an opportunity and are best placed to address that opportunity due to their home market success and then fail. They usually base their analysis on a few common principles: size of population, spend in relevant segment, and growth of local competitors and if they are really sophisticated, access to their supply chain requirements in that market. At best, these criteria are only to identify if there “is an opportunity”, but nothing more. Even when looking at adjacent markets what are the requirements for the right to participate and how much change is required by your business to make that change? You don’t jump off a cliff without checking what is below. Do You – sorry I don’t know many cliff divers out there!
Looking at the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) industry, which is becoming very crowded, there is a growing view that through their niche success they are best placed to expand into new markets.  This is not at all surprising given that everything these days is somehow connected to “mobile” or “in the cloud” and basically revolving “around networks”.  So, many businesses feel ICT organizations don’t just have an opportunity to compete in new or adjacent markets but, they have a right to, given their home market success. This is both lacking in logic and potentially dangerous for their business when their starting point is an operating model which is based upon their local market success.  
Leveraging partners as you enter unknown terrain provides your business with a set of “handlebars” and ultimately can result in a more stable and inherently positive outcome. They will enable you to adapt to whatever terrain you come across, or challenges placed in front of your business.  Adaption is really the key to understanding new markets – start by assuming you are going to adapt during the journey and then the only question you have to ask yourself is by how much?  Once you’ve made those determinations, you can then establish your plan for that market and then begin to understand how much of your existing capability can be leveraged. There is a growing wave of expectation for ICT firms to build their own ecosystems and to start offering services with best of breed partners that are complimentary.  This is being driven by an increasing demand for integrated solutions by customers - and as a result experiences.  Just like riding a bike through rocky terrain whilst holding the handlebars, support when entering non familiar territory is not a bad thing. If you fell of your bike riding over rough terrain without holding the handlebars would you really repeat the exercise or use a little more caution?
Doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome will never deliver you the result you are looking for – I know surprising right? Therefore, don’t seek to blindly follow the path of your competitor, but learn from their journey both the good and the bad. Don’t simply do what you’ve successfully achieved in a different market, instead capitalize on your knowledge and capabilities! Leverage these capabilities in a relevant way, a way which is aligned to the market you are seeking to enter. Ultimately defining your concept for all markets is perfectly fine but the execution of that concept must be relevant to the market you are seeking to enter. Above all be ready to adapt to the dynamic nature of the market you are seeking to enter! Last but not least consider your partner ecosystem in the market you are trying to enter, because if you don’t get ready for a ride down the mountain as you enter the new market without being able to hold the handlebars for control – because they simply won’t be there!  I am sure similar to many of you that when I was starting out on my bicycle heading down that hill without holding on that first time… the idea of shouting out to Mum saying “Look Mum no hands!” was great in concept however the outcome was simply not a pretty sight!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Don't Stop Believing

Yes, as in the song, in case you were about to ask.  It’s a Journey…
Have you ever had an idea which you thought would change your business or the business you work for or even serve your customers more effectively, yet when you brought it to your boss’s attention, they then thanked you kindly, filed it away and sent you on your way? Well, I don’t know about you, but this has been one of my key challenges and ultimate frustrations.  It just makes me want to scream and say “Hey – this WILL work and it WILL help so let’s just give it a go!” Yet, standing on top of a desk and having your “Braveheart” moment simply doesn't have the affect anymore like it did in the late 1990’s! – Before you ask, no, I didn’t stand on a desk and no, I didn’t wear a kilt, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it though!
Seriously, I have seen and met people who have fantastic ideas, but struggle to get the buy in or to translate them into outcomes.  I have even had some mad ideas during my career, from trying to sell Satellite to ISP’s in Europe through to introducing alternate training and customer engagement into incumbent market leaders. I had a lot of obstacles thrown in my path and had to engage numerous people to ensure endorsement from and engagement with. To be honest, I have learned a lot from both those who supported my ideas and equally from those who challenged me, but when I boil it down there is one lesson I learned early on which has always stayed with me.
My Dad always used to tell me, if you aim for the dirt, you will hit it every time.  But, if you aim for the stars, you may not reach them, but reaching for them could get you a lot closer than remaining in the dirt (See Dad I do remember some things!). I have always remembered this phrase and often found myself giving myself (stay with me now) a kick up the backside and reminding myself that getting by day to day isn’t good enough. This is possibly also part of the reason I write these articles / blogs, trying to share my ideas with others to think about for themselves or consider how they could implement rather than just keeping them to myself!
So … great, aim for the stars right? That’s it? Well, clearly not, if that was all it took I would have been standing on a hill long ago just selling the ideas rolling through my head! I have learned through the years that there are a few key factors (for me at least anyway!) to ensure we are able to turn beliefs into outcomes. Simply put, unless you are articulating what it means for your stakeholders, working with a team who provides you honest feedback and positive support with realistic outcomes, you will always be trying to run through mud to get your idea delivered.  I believe we all need to follow three basic, but often missed, fundamentals. 
First of all, speak their language – have you ever found yourself getting frustrated with colleagues because they are not sharing your excitement and commitment to an idea? Well, have you ever asked yourself what your idea or recommendation for change means to them, or how will it improve the way they work, and how will it ultimately help them to succeed in their own goals or business responsibilities? Sounds obvious perhaps, but you would be amazed at how many ideas are lost in translation that I have seen as people bang their heads against a wall trying to comprehend why they can’t garner the support from key stakeholders.
 Secondly, anchor in real world - have a team that shares your ambition but brings a dose of reality to the table. This is crucial.  In a previous company, I was often referred to as the “Blue Sky Boy”, coming up with ideas which sometimes seemed out there and other times seemed to come from beyond (apparently). It was my team that helped to validate these ideas and assess whether they were doable or simply a star too far at the present time. As equally important, do not be afraid to take feedback and adapt your course.  To achieve a goal you are aiming for, people providing different points of views, as long as they are constructive, can actually help you see the path to a successful outcome! Therefore, always keep an open mind, and for those of us who are overly direct, that can be difficult (yes me included!)
Finally, deliver what you can digest – Ideas and brain storming is great, but ultimately in the end we need to be able to actually deliver something, otherwise they are just that … ideas. You may find that you need to break up the idea into deliverable phases rather than trying to do everything at once (believe me I have tried!).  If you try to do everything all at once this will ultimately achieve nothing and your team and everyone around you will become highly disillusioned about your idea leaving in bogged down in validation rather than execution.
I have found that by ensuring these three aspects are aligned (and no I don’t get it right every time!) you will put yourself in a good position for success.  Naturally, these combined with the key attribute of staying the path, and truly believing that what you are doing is the right thing for the business or for your own plans then stay with it. Of course, with the accountability to drive one’s own outcomes comes the responsibility for success or failure.  That is to say, you need to be prepared to fail and to be responsible for whatever your path brings.  I don’t advocate the failure mentality per se, but I have always worked on a principle of fail fast.  Simply put, I encourage my teams to test concepts and have the maturity to decide if they will or won’t work and inform their peers and or manager of the same early on.  There is no point in waiting until significant resources have been spent, and ultimately creating a degree of disillusionment that is difficult to recover from.
So where do we go from here? Well, all I am sharing are my own key approaches to ensuring the ideas that I have can be followed through and yes sometimes it has worked and other times not. The key is to ensure that you stay the course if it is what you truly believe, gather your advocates, anchor in reality and ensure you can deliver on what you say you will and you be able to give yourself a chance to succeed! We can change the world we live and work in, one idea at a time, take the Journey  “some will win, some will lose”, just Don’t Stop Believing and who knows, as Malcolm Wallace from Braveheart is quoted as saying:Your heart is free... have the courage to follow it.”