Category Archives: Updates

THREE KEY DRIVERS FOR A SUCCESSFUL 2011

As we reflect on the past decade and prepare for the next, what might we have learned from this unique decade that will make us a better leader? How will we intentionally and differently focus our time and resources as we lead / direct our respective organizations? How will we strategically drive our organization in the coming decade? What are the drivers for a successful 2011 and beyond? Have we fully comprehended what adjustments must be made moving forward? These are the questions we will be asking during this month’s CEO Forums.

The decade began with businesses posting revenue increases year after year reflecting strong percentage increases. Our customers also seemed to continue to prosper. Funding to finance our venture’s growth was relatively available as was consumer debt. The value of real estate also posted strong gains and in some markets leaped in value year over year. Even-easier financing became available to finance real estate purchases causing increasing speculation to take place. It certainly appeared to be an opportunity for many to build a relatively large organization and accumulate real estate assets. The degree of leverage had more to do with asset values and less to do with cash flow metrics. There was no buffer for a downturn for many. This period was abruptly interrupted by the Great Recession of 2008 and the painful two years that have followed.

The past 24 months have been a period for leaders that has been more reactionary than anything else. A leader’s mandate was pretty clear: 1. Try to establish at what level revenues had decreased and act to reduce costs to a point that the operation was more financially balanced and unfortunately, do it again if necessary. 2. Deal with the surprises within our cash flow cycles as an alarming number of our customers had difficulty or were unable to pay our accounts receivable balances 3. React to the problems caused by 1 and 2. What a challenging and demanding period for the leader of any organization! If you are still standing, congratulations!

As we reflect on this period and the year ahead of us, we offer to you as an initial draft, three recommendations. We will process these topics within our CEO Forums this month among the 35 CEO’s or Organizational Leaders that participate and from the members’ input, offer an updated version of these recommendations.

It is time to move forward differently as we lead in 2011. These are our recommendations.

1. Lead your organization in a way that is less about the negativity of the Great Recession and is more about how we plan to respond to the new realities of today and together advance the organization forward positively building for the opportunities to advance even further in the years that follow. At this point in the cycle, leaders must carry the burden of the negativity and not allow it to leak unduly into your organization. Yes, we must establish reality and have the understanding that our organizations may not be able to extend pay raises or bonuses as was once more common. And we can consider from their perspective, what we can do to help give their efforts and contributions more meaning. A genuine thank you can go a long way. We can even adjust to this downturn by asking for our co-worker’s input and suggestions on how we process our work better or differently given the new realities of the day. A leader must cushion his team from too much negativity and create a new environment that fits today’s new realities and leads your organization forward in positive ways. It may be a year where the financial gains are modest yet it may also be one of the best performances of your organization ever. As our mentor, Jim Myers, founder of the CEO Forum would say, “stay in the game, it will all come to you!”

2. Reassess who is your target market customer based on their overall financial strength, strength of their business model and their ability to grow. There continues to be a separation between the stronger customers and the rest of your market. The extended period of economic growth represented in the late 90′s and early 2000′s allowed many of us to forgo the time and effort to assess risk among customers and prospects before we took on exposure via extending credit or absorbing the time between purchase or services rendered and payment of the same. This may be a completely new exercise for younger leaders and will become an important new learned skill from this point forward.

3. Work closely with your best customers to make sure you know how they measure the value proposition of your product or service and inquire as to ways that you can increase your value proposition. Based on your best customers’ input, take actions that will increase your value proposition as viewed by them. By increasing your value proposition, you become more competitive in the marketplace and have reduced risk of losing your best customers. At the same time, instead of working with your lower quadrant customer base and risking loss on payment of accounts receivable, you can consider pursuing more boldly new business from that portion of the target market that you do not have as a customer and might have otherwise not been attainable. Parallel to this exercise is one of striving to simplify your “product or service offering” and discontinuing any offering that does not drive a higher value proposition as viewed by your target customers. Often in good times, we expand products and services that complicate our business and don’t produce financial results. Since we likely aren’t scaling them up, we should aggressively consider eliminating them. We then are able to devote time and resources needed to increase our value proposition relative to our core products or services.

May we visit this time next year where you have completed a solid strength building year and your experience of leading during the Great Recession begins to reflect its value of making you a better leader. May your organization be better prepared to respond to the challenges and opportunities that this world of economic uncertainty is sure to present.

As our mentor shared during our initial years of leadership and during a major economic downturn, “Until we have observed a leader operate against adversity, we know not what kind of leader he or she is or can be.”

And to you, we wish a Happy and Prosperous 2011!

If we can be of assistance to you, please contact us at tim@grayrockadvisory.com.

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Checklist: The 20 Most Important Questions In Business

This checklist prepared by forbes.com in a PowerPoint presentation “holds water” as well as any we have seen.  It would be a healthy exercise for any CEO or C- Suite team to evaluate your small to medium size business against each of these 20 Most Important Questions in Business.  The exercise would serve to confirm for you what areas deserve your near term attention and what areas need to be improved upon within your long-range strategic plan.  We hope you find the exercise enlightening and helpful.

You will find the checklist here.

Forecasting in Today’s Economic Climate

During times marked by turbulent economic events such as the past eighteen months, it is more difficult to forecast where our level of volume and revenues may be heading.

So how does one forecast in such a turbulent time?

Revenues and Items that Follow Revenues

Consider shortening the planning period first then extending it incrementally.   As an example, consider working diligently to understand and forecast next month’s sales, then the next two months, then the next quarter as a whole, then the next six months as a whole until you complete your planning period.  We can manage these activities in ways that are much more granular than times past not only in forecasting but also by working back from the monthly sales forecast and identifying  what  specific actions must occur by each key party to achieve these forecasts.  One can consider what this will require for the next month, the next week and even the next day, then remain engaged relative to these required activities to see that the organization get’s back “on plan” albeit likely from a lower base of revenues.  From this revenue forecast, one can begin to make decisions as to expense control and managing cash flow as we all strive to re-balance ourselves financially.  Working diligently to understand and manage from the short term detail of each of these areas will give your organization an opportunity to get re-balanced sooner than later.

Balance Sheet Considerations and Strategic Direction

While longer term in nature, equally important are the strategic considerations to develop a more intense understanding of how each customer is weathering this storm and targeting for possible increase in sales those that represent stable capacity to pay your accounts receivable timely and reducing exposure to those that could become slower pay and even a loss due to inability to pay their accounts payable.  This is not something that we had to concern ourselves with too much in the past decade.  It is a skill and a methodology that must be redeveloped or developed so that we can better understand our risk and make decisions accordingly.

Keep in mind that there has been and will continue to be surprises of corporate downfalls and by working diligently every day to access these risks, you may be able to act to minimize risks where surprises could otherwise occur at a time that is least affordable. The risk of every customer is going up or it is going down and it is helpful longterm if we try to ascertain which direction each customer is heading and respond accordingly seeking to reduce exposure to one group and expand sales with the other group.  This is easy to say and hard to do but by establishing these strategic directions, one can over time make a positive  impact on the quality and risk of your overall customer base.

Some organizations may be able to afford taking the increased risks that some of these customers pose and be willing to work with them with loosened payment terms during this difficult time.  If so, that is outstanding and admirable.  Hopefully your customers will appreciate your willingness to both expand the working capital levels required to finance the same business and accept the credit risk.  This also could be deemed a   necessary risk compared to loosing sales volume such that operating losses begin to impair capital.

Finding the optimal risk / reward strategy for your organization in these areas will not only serve you well this year but for years to come and can make your organization, through this adversity, stronger than before the downturn.

Best of luck in your future forecasting, improved risk assessment, re-targeting of your customer base and managing your cash flow for the challenging yet macro-economically improving period of the next five quarters ending 2010.

John Lewis: Lessons Learned

AcrobatScreenSnapz027Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

Gratitude is the foundation of contentment.

There are always those who are smarter, stronger and faster than you, generally younger. Choose them for your team.

Things that get rewarded…get done.

Mistakes are opportunities.

All humans face the same issues, just in varying magnitudes and in different sequencing.

Hubris is the first sign of an impending train wreck.

Reality is not moral.

John M. Lewis
1939-2007