What has COVID done to Company Culture?

What has COVID done to Company Culture?

The effect of COVID on company culture is an issue for all business leaders to consider seriously. I see the following areas for examination:

  • Have you lived your culture during COVID?
  • How are you maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?
  • How are you instilling your culture into new hires in a WFH environment?

Have you lived your culture during COVID?

COVID has forced many companies to pivot, cut costs, and adjust strategy. However, did the leader and management team live up to the company’s culture while executing these changes? As everyone’s cultural values are different behaviors to consider.

  • Did you check in with your employees regularly to see how they were coping?
  • Did you communicate effectively and often with your employees, so they knew what was happening?
  • When making changes, did you explain why and where the company’s new direction was aimed?
  • When terminating people, did you do it in person or by email?

The above is just a sample of behaviors that maybe didn’t live up to the company’s values. If you didn’t, then you need to work hard to fix it. As with any crisis like this, there are a few key steps:

  1. Get in front of it. It has happened, so it is hard to get in front of it. However, do an audit of behaviors and values during COVID. Identify the lapses and then plan accordingly. Don’t wait for the Zoom cooler talk to destroy any belief in the companies values.
  2. Admit It. Let your employees know you recognize that you didn’t live up to your values in the identified situations.
  3. Own It. Say it was the leadership’s fault. The buck stops with you, and that is why you get paid the big bucks! Deflecting the blame will only weaken a fragile state and create further disbelief in any values you may have.
  4. Correct it. Layout a plan to correct the behaviors from happening again and what steps the organization will take to reinforce its values in the future. This plan needs to have SMART metrics tied to it so that employees can see the progress being made and it not just more “CEO Bingo.”

Maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?

For many, the move to WFH has gone well overall. Productivity is generally up, and work is getting done. Many CEOs and business leaders are considering to what degree they can allow WFH going forward, permanently, one to five days a week, etc. However, one of the reasons that WFH has gone so well is that before COVID, we had strong relationships with our coworkers. We knew them, had worked with them, and most importantly, had built some degree of trust. But the longer we don’t connect with them, the weaker these bonds grow. While we are connecting with them over Zoom, Teams, Slack, or email, that is not the same as in person. If we lose the culture or connections, it weakens the ability of the company to respond to other threats, and people will leave for companies where they see better relationships.

The more time we are remote, the bonds between us grow weaker. Long distant relationships have a 58% chance of success, basically a coin toss. There are stronger connections in a romantic relationship than a work one, so the chances of a “long-distance” work relationship working are less than 50%. So leaders need to figure out how to maintain the connections and culture among employees as they go forward with a WFH policy. If employees are only going to be in the office rarely, the company needs to increase how it builds connections between employees and promotes its culture.

Regular gatherings of employees at events where they can strengthen their relationships will be essential. Getting them to share personal information to build stronger bonds will also be a crucial part of the effort. Doing this will differ among companies, but figure it out and ensure that the events have a clear purpose that everyone understands and get feedback on to know if you are achieving your goals.

Instilling your culture into new hires

New hires are posing the most difficult challenges for companies. Historically we know that 70+% of people regret making the job change on the first day. Now we are in a WFH environment where there are fewer personal connections. If we cannot build those connections and get them to buy into the culture, they will shortly leave, which is expensive for the organization and poses new problems when people are hard to find.

The leader and leadership team need to work with their HR departments to figure out how to effectively onboard new hires and simultaneously install the firm’s culture and develop personal connections among the teams. Achieving this won’t be easy, but the effort will pay huge dividends.

Why Does This Matter?

It doesn’t take much to destroy the employees’ belief in the company’s values and attribute them to just words on a wall. If this is where you are, the road back to get alignment around values will be hard. Without core values, nothing connects the employees to a common bond and purpose, so they are more likely to leave.

If your employees are not connected, they are less likely to have a good friend at work. Without a good friend in an environment where they spend a third of their time, there is less keeping them attached. With demand for employees increasing, and thus wages, they will be tempted to move if there is no downside to leaving the tribe.

Those organizations that live their culture and whose employees have strong bonds of trust will outperform those that don’t. The work to achieve this is not always easy but very beneficial.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc Borrell

 

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Profit ≠ Cash Flow

Profit ≠ Cash Flow

While I have known this for a long time, last week, it was brought home to me how many conflate the two. Profit and Cash Flow are not the same. I have known many profitable companies have negative cash flow and some unprofitable ones have positive cash flow. Knowing the difference is critical. 

As I have mentioned before, cash is the blood in a company. Without it, the company dies, regardless of how profitable it is. Many young companies that take off don’t appreciate the issue and believe that they will solve it with growth. However, this is similar to the old business joke, “Of selling at a loss but making it up on volume.”

How the Statements Connect

For non-accountants and finance people, the issue is that they look at the Profit and Loss Statement, Balance Sheet, and Statement of Cash Flows as separate entities without realizing the interconnectedness. Finally, the way a standard statement of cash flows is laid out, most don’t know what it is saying. 

It takes a while to realize that the P&L shows you the earning for the period, then the statement of cash flows shows the adjustments required to get to the cash generated from the different sources. Finally, the balance sheet is the statement at the end of the period of what is owned and what is owed. They flow in that order, generating the statement of cash flows from the profit and loss statement, and the balance sheet really cemented the relationships in my mind.

The Dates

Again, I was made aware of this when I was presented with a profit and loss statement and balance sheets, but all as of different dates. If the dates don’t sync, you can’t deduce much from them. The profit and loss statement must cover the same periods. The balance sheets must be as of the starting date and the ending date of the period. Sounds simple, but many look at these financial statements for different periods and don’t realize that you can’t tell much from them.

How to Determine Your Cash Flow

Now many people don’t understand the statement of cash flows, and I understand that. The key information is how much cash the firm generates or absorbs, what it will do with it, or how it funds the shortfall. For many entrepreneurs, here is an easy way of looking at Cash Flow. Assume your company has a Gross Margin and Net Operating Margin of 20% and a 10.15%, respectively. In addition, your Accounts Receivable, Inventory, and Accounts Payable are 80, 35.7, and 45 days respectively. If you grow revenue by $100, the effect is as follows.

Revenue + $100.00
Cost of Goods Sold 80.00
Gross Profit = 20.00
SG&A (Overheads) 9.85
Net Operating Profit = 10.15
Accounts Receivable (80 days) 21.92
Inventory (35.7 days) 9.78
Accounts Payable (45 days) + 12.33
Cash Shortfall = $9.22

Thus for every additional $100 of revenue, you need $9.22 of extra cash. This is why many fast-growing companies implode, they cannot get sufficient cash to fund their growth, and without cash, the company dies. Now some will argue that I have not added back depreciation etc. That is true; however, I have found that CapEx is equal to depreciation over time if you wish your company to keep functioning, so that is just a timing issue.

How to Improve Cash Flow?

So understanding your cash flow is a vital part of understanding the financial model of your business. If you generate a shortfall, you need to figure out how you will finance it. There are really three options,

  1. Arrange to finance for your working capital.
  2. Shorten your Cash Conversion Cycle
  3. Use the Power of One to change the cash generation of the business.

There are a number of companies that provide working capital financing, so if you need some names, let me know. If you don’t know your cash flow cycle, it is the time from when you start the sales cycle until you get paid. It is broken into four areas – Sales Cycle, Make/Production & Inventory Cycle, Delivery Cycle, and Billing and Payments Cycle. The Power of One, developed by Alan Mills, determines which of seven variables most influences increased cash flow.

I know many companies don’t have this information, and their accounting systems don’t know how to produce it. In that case, get a coach or adviser who can help you. The investment will be well worth the effort to understand how to drive your business without ongoing funding. If you want more information on how these work and how to implement them in your business, message me.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

What Are Your Critical and Counter Critical Numbers?

What Are Your Critical and Counter Critical Numbers?

I know many business leaders and CEOs who follow the concept of 13-Weeks Sprints, whether they have adapted them from the Rockefeller Habits, EOS, or elsewhere. While 13-Week Sprints are great, many select their “Rocks” without tying them to the three to five corporate objectives for the next year, leading to the company’s 3HAG (3 Year Highly Achievable Goal) and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Thus, why many have ten to twenty “Rocks” that they are tracking and accomplishing, the team still feels like there is no coordination and everyone is going in different directions without alignment. Without alignment, nothing really gets accomplished. To resolve this, in each 13-Week Sprint, you need a Critical Number!

What is the Critical Number?

When determining the three to five corporate objectives for the next year, develop a theme for each quarter. Within that theme, identify the one critical number or metric that needs to be attained to move the company towards its objectives over the next quarter. Examples among my clients include reducing defects in software that they produce, project completion times, customer support response times, and employee utilization. Once the critical metric is identified, determine your “Rocks” for the 13-Weeks Sprint to move that metric to its desired result and rank them. The “Rocks” should be objectives across the organization that all support the achievement of that critical number.

When identifying the critical number for the period, frame it with a sense of urgency. “If we don’t hit this critical number, customer satisfaction will fall and drag down revenue, causing us to lose money and die, so it is essential to achieve this number.” That may seem a little extreme, but by framing it that way, the entire organization realizes its importance and has a ripple effect.

What About Your Counter Critical Number?

So, having identified your critical number and supporting “Rocks,” the following question to answer is, “What is the counter-critical number?” The necessary counter metric ensures that the focus on the key metric for the quarter doesn’t damage the company elsewhere. For example, suppose the critical number is customer support times, and we want to improve efficiency. In hitting that critical metric, we might provide worse customer support but achieve the support times we desire. 

So the appropriate counter-critical number might be customer support satisfaction scores. We need to reduce customer support time but maintain or exceed a customer satisfaction score of X. Thus, the counter number stops the organization from hitting the critical metric at a detriment to other areas of the organization.

Selecting the appropriate counter-critical number needs work, as we often don’t anticipate all the changes that can result from setting the critical metric. Think of metrics for sales teams, as great salespeople are excellent at figuring out how to hit their targets with the least amount of effort and gaming the system. Many sales metrics have resulted in bad outcomes because no one thought through the ramifications of the targets. So get your team together and challenge each other about what you would do to hit the critical number that might damage the company. Do not take pride in the authorship of the critical metric or argue that certain behaviors would never occur within your team. To quote Douglas Adams, “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

As you work through this, a great rule is the “And” rule. You can only respond to any suggestion by agreeing with at least 10% of it and then improving on it by saying “And.” No “Buts” allowed!

Communicate and Celebrate!

Throughout the quarter, update the organization on its progress towards the critical number and maintaining the counter-critical number. Do this in weekly updates. Suppose you can’t generate the critical and counter-critical metrics weekly. In that case, they are bad proxies because, by the time you report them, it will be too late to correct to implement correcting actions to achieve them.

Also, when establishing the “Rocks,” critical and counter-critical numbers for the quarter, set a celebration budget. If you follow EOS, Verne Harnish, or any other management systems, you are aware of red, amber, green, and super-green targets. Basically, red = miss, amber = close, green = met, super-green = overachieve. The celebration budget should be dependant on the level of achievement, e.g., 

  • if Y% of the “Rocks” are green and none are red, the budget is $X;
  • if all the “Rocks” are green, then the budget is $1.2X; and 
  • if all the “Rocks” are green, but Z% are super-green, then the budget is $1.5X

Have the team, not the leadership, plan the celebrations for the different budgets and share them with the organization. Regardless of what it is, ensure that it’s something that will get everyone excited and motivated to work together to achieve it. If the numbers are reported weekly, everyone knows how they are progressing towards that exciting goal, and if they are missing some, they can adjust to try and achieve them by quarter’s end.

So go and set targets that will lead you to your 3HAG and not trip you up on the way. Celebrate each accomplishment. You will be glad you did.

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

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Hopefully, Your Firm Doesn’t Claim a Family Culture

Hopefully, Your Firm Doesn’t Claim a Family Culture

I am a strong believer that company culture is critical in its success. It defines who you are, who you attract, and how you behave. As Jim Collins says, the most important thing is “Who is on the Bus.” However, when talking to many clients and business owners, I often hear that they have a “Family” culture within their organization. I am always perplexed by this answer, but it has become a red flag in my book about the possibility of the organization’s performance.

What Does Family Culture Mean?

Drilling down, it would appear that it means that the organization is nurturing like a family. Mentally they envision a Norman Rockwell painting of everyone happy and getting along. However, most family gatherings are not like that. Rather it starts that way and then someone says something that leads to the usual conflicts arising. I know families where they always invite guests to ensure everyone remains on good behavior.

When I hear family, the first thing I think of is “dysfunctional.” Now everyone is pointing out that only my family is dysfunctional; however, we all have thought our spouses/partners’ families were dysfunctional when we met them because they didn’t behave like ours. But it is not just behavior; there is true dysfunction. As a friend reminded me of at my wedding, at every wedding, there is the equivalent of the “Drunk Uncle.” Let’s consider some of the cast of characters that can appear.

  • The matriach/patriach. They rule. All allegiance is to them. They were paramount in the family’s success, so their “rules” are lived to even when no one can remember how or why the rule came into being. I have seen families lose fortunes following such directives because the world had changed, but all that remained was the rule and not the intent.
  • Favored child. There is always one. They often perform way below par and everyone else, but the parents continue to make excuses for them and support them. They are the ones who believe they are owed everything under their “favored” child status.
  • Second Class Child. The one that was ignored as all the attention got lavished on the favored child. They often work harder, produce more, and die for the family’s success; only they are never taken seriously. Often they become bitter and seek the destruction of all.
  • Drunk Uncle. We all know him/her. Embarrasses everyone, totally inappropriate, starts fights, resented by all, yet tolerated because they are family. However, everyone hopes they will not make the next event.
  • Bitter Sibling. Was overlooked in the succession plan, so bitter forever. Points out how the others received everything on a plate, but they received nothing. They ignore the fact that they have lived off the families’ wealth for the entire lives.
  • The Outcast. Unable to fit in went on their own. Has done well, but resented because they had the strength to walk away and is enjoying life.

If we have a “Family” Culture, then we probably have some of these in the organization.

What is the Problem?

Employees leave organizations because they lose respect for their supervisors.  Why? Their supervisor tolerates “B and C” performers. “A” players want to be surrounded by other “A” players. In a high-performing company, if you don’t meet expectations, you are fired. There is no job security other than through performance.

However, we never fire relatives; we can’t. You are always my father, mother, son, daughter, etc. Thus, claiming a family culture, by definition, requires that you will tolerate poor performance. Knowing that there are “B” players on the team who are never going to leave because of the “family” culture will just driveway more “A” players. This is a negative reinforcement cycle that leads you into a future of mediocre performance as an organization.

My father gave shares in his company to his parents and siblings. When my aunt married someone who didn’t reflect my father’s values, she demanded that my father give him a job in the company as she was a shareholder and it was a “family” business. My father fired all his family members and reminded them that he had them sign undated sale agreements back to him when he gave them their shares. He dated them all and became the sole owner. From then on, he would only hire those that could perform.

So What to Do?

If one looks at successful family businesses, I see that they don’t claim a family culture. They emphasize those family values that they care about. They can say that their values are “nurturing and developing” e.g. they are a “pool” company. Or they can say that they train and develop their people to go on to better things, e.g. a “stream” company. In my father’s case, one of his values was caring. When one of his accounting staff’s husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer he sent her home on full pay until the husband had died. He made sure that the bonuses and gifts he gave made it to the employees’ families. When my father died, over three hundred Africans came from the townships in South Africa to pay their respects at his funeral.

Further, I have noticed that high performing family businesses often have rules, like those below, when a family member wants to join the family business they must:

  • Have worked elsewhere before joining.
  • Apply for an open position
  • Have the requisite experience and qualifications,
  • Be interviewed and selected by non-family members.
  • Report to non-family members and stepping over the chain of command to family members higher up can be a termination event.
  • Realize they will be fired for nonperformance. If they are, they are still in the “family,” just not in the company.

So if you want a culture of performance, don’t say you have a family culture. Focus on what part of the “family” culture you want to emphasize and say that.

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A Borrelli

 

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Who is your Core Customer?

In working with many clients on improving their business and developing a growth model, we soon get into the issue of their “Core Customer.” I have realized that many have not given this much thought and cannot easily define their “Core Customer.” Your Core Customer is the customer you are targeting, the customer that is preferred, and the one that your marketing and sales efforts are focused on. A Core Customer has the following attributes:

  • A real person with wants, needs, and fears.
  • Will buy for optimal profit.
  • Has an unique online identity and behavior.
  • Pays on time, loyal, and refers others.
  • Exists today among your customers

Not knowing your Core Customer is not a terrible problem, as we can quickly work through a session to put a definition in place. However, a more complicated issue is knowing their Core Customer but unable to define their “Economic Engine,” or profitability per customer. Lack of good data is always a severe problem! If you can’t measure something, then your performance is purely an assumption, and down that road is chaos.

Profit per Customer

If you don’t know your profit per customer, the customer you consider your “Core Customer” may generate sub-par profits pulling down the company’s performance. During a recent conversation, a CEO told me their metric was revenue per employee. While that would generate top-line revenue, it does nothing for profit, efficient customer targeting and marketing, or market differentiation. The business adage, “We are losing money on each item, but will make it up on volume,” seems to be the driving force.

Many companies I have worked with cannot tell me the profitability per customer and so work on the assumption that they are performing well, but cannot understand why they cannot scale and have profit and cashflow issues. Also, often their data is corrupted by the “Flaw of Averages.” So to paraphrase the proverb, “First get your data.” Sometimes getting good data on project costs is difficult, but without there cannot be:

  • Knowledge of performance;
  • Plans for improvement;
  • Measurement of improvement.

And “Hope is not a strategy.”

Select the Right Core Customer

Once we have data showing your Core Customer’s profitability, we can determine if they generate optimal profit. Since a requirement of a Core Customer, as mentioned above, if your Core Customer is not generating optimal profit, then there are one of two choices:

  1. Change your economic model so that they do, or
  2. Change your Core Customer.

When examining the data, many companies have found that the companies they were targeting as their “Core Customers” were their less profitable customers and ones that everyone in the market was fighting over. Targeting a different segment of customers that generated optimal profit could increase its profitability and differentiate itself from its competition, a great “Blue Ocean” strategy.

Lake Truck Lines, a Gravitas client, was focused on large customers. However, when analyzing its data, Lake Truck Lines realized that everyone was targeting those customers so there was pricing pressure and low margins. By make mid-sized customers its Core Customer, the company was able to operate with less competition and generate the optimal profit per customer. Similarly with Build Direct, focusing on young women seeking to do DIY, it was able to realize a much higher margin and operate in “Blue Ocean” waters compared to when it was focused on supplying general contractors.

The time spent analyzing your clients, their profitability, and your Blue Ocean possibilities can result in you operating at higher margins with less competition.

Profit / X

I have discussed the “Economic Engine” before, but it is the concept of “Profit/X,” Profit/X is the crucial part of your strategy, and it must:

  • Tightly aligns with your BHAG®
  • Be the fundamental economic engine of your business
  • Be a single overarching KPI to scale your business
  • It must impact revenue while controlling cost.
  • More X must be desirable.
  • It must be unique within the industry – you have to differentiate yourself from your competition.

What is critical is finding a Profit/X that is unique within your industry. If you choose the same Profit/X as everyone else, you are all competing on the same drivers, and you cannot differentiate yourself from your competition. Having identified our Core Customer, the appropriate Profit/X can be identified. Picking the wrong Profit/X given your Core Customer again will lead to sub-optimal results. These two concepts are interconnected and for you to achieve the best results, you need to determine both and have them connected.

Having the Right Profit/X

If your Profit/X is defined as profit per employee, you have only three ways to achieve this: increase the price, improve employee performance or cut the product’s quality. Since price should be driven by value creation, not employee profitability, raising prices may be difficult. We do not want to cut value delivery, and driving employees harder is no recipe for success. Thus a better metric may be profit per customer.

With customer size, if you are servicing large customers it may require longer larger projects compared to mid-sized companies. If mid-sized companies have more set up and administrative costs then your Profit/X must be different between the two.

There are many examples of Profit/X from Southwest Airlines’ profit per plane to a dry cleaner who measured it by profit per delivery truck. The key is to find the one that drives your business and will also differentiate yourself.

Conclusion

Many CEOs and Business Owners are salespeople and are not interested in digging into the financials and getting to the data I have discussed above. However, the effort is well worth it, as once you have a clear understanding of where you are, you can:

  • Target marketing towards your Core Customer;
  • Differentiate yourself from your competition;
  • Ensure that all projects, services, or products meeting your Profit/X to ensure profitability; and 
  • Position yourself for growth and profitability. 

Get your CFO, your team, and a coach and spend a day or two to determine the ideal results. The payoff will be huge.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli