Monday Mornings with Madison

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Project Management

Under-Promising and Over-Delivering

It’s been said (many times) that companies should strive to under-promise and over-deliver. Under-promising and over-delivering is seen as a good philosophy to control customer expectations and ensure that every customer becomes a raving fan when they get more than they expected. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that this is a great way to drive a business into the ground. Some see this as a formula for failure because it lowers the bar internally so that what is considered “above and beyond” is really nothing more than what the competition does on a regular basis without breaking a sweat. It therefore encourages mediocrity. Which is true?
Should a company seek to under-promise what it is offering clients? And should a company try to over-deliver, going above and beyond what is standard? Or should they set the bar high and strive to go above and beyond that? This is the conundrum with which leaders have wrestled since companies first began competing for business. There is no easy answer. The truth is that it depends. In certain situations, it is helpful to under-promise and over-deliver, but there are also times when under-promising and over-delivering actually hurts business. Understanding when it is good to do this and when it isn’t is the key.
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The Many Facets of Leadership

Imagine that a company or business is like a boat and the boat has a destination… the port of profitability and growth. On the left side of the boat are the Marketing oars. On the right side of the boat are its Sales oars. If only the left oars are rowing, the boat will go around in circles, clockwise. And if only the right oars are rowing, the boat will go in counter-clockwise circles. Even if both sets of oars are rowing, but not in tandem, the boat will not move in the intended direction very swiftly. But if both sets of oars row in tandem, the boat will move forward. If guided by someone who knows the destination, it will move toward that spot. And the faster and more efficiently they row in tandem, the more swiftly it will get to its destination. The process of getting all the oars to row in tandem, efficiently and effectively, to a particular designation is management. Getting there faster than the competition is good management. And leadership is the wind in the sails of the vessel, which can help propel it even farther and faster. If the leadership is strong and steady, the work of the sales and marketing teams is made easier, and everything glides forward quickly.

Great leaders make the difference between an average performance and an extraordinary one. Today’s leaders do many things, including coaching, mentoring, counseling and, of course, managing. Employees today expect people in leadership roles to be willing to roll their sleeves up and keep managing and facilitating. In practical terms, what does good management look like today? It is more than just someone telling someone else what to do. Continue reading

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The Many Facets of Leadership

Much has been studied, researched, written and taught about leadership. There are even entire doctoral programs in leadership at prestigious universities. That’s because, arguably, good leadership allows companies to succeed when they might have otherwise failed. And great leadership pushes companies to rise above an ocean of mediocre ones. That is why the most successful investors — think George Soros and Warren Buffet, who achieved annual excess returns 15% over the S&P for over 30+ years — spend an inordinate amount of time every day studying not only a company’s financials but also the skills and track records of the leadership at those companies. Companies with the most innovative products can still fail to thrive without well-developed leadership. To state the obvious, leadership really matters.

Also, great leadership skills are not just essential for Presidents and C-Suite executives. Great leadership is invaluable for those directing divisions, departments, teams and projects. That’s because leaders are responsible for managing finite resources as well as planning and executing direction and action. In particular, one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to help employees develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That is called coaching and it is a key facet of leadership. So exactly what is coaching and what makes a great coach? And is there a difference between coaching and other things leaders commonly do such as managing, mentoring, teaching and counseling? Continue reading

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Using Chess Strategy in Business, Part 2

There are many benefits that come from playing chess. Psychologists often cite chess as an effective activity to help improve memory function. That is probably why chess is recommended in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Playing chess can also help the mind solve complex problems and work through ideas. It is also thought to increase one’s intelligence, although that’s not been scientifically proven. And the effects of chess on children – which has been correlated to children getting better grades in school — has led to chess being introduced in schools in a multitude of countries. That said, many are still intimidated by chess because it is perceived as a game for geniuses. But while chess is a thinking-man’s game — one that requires a great deal of strategic thought and tactical reflection — it is not just for geniuses and savants. Anyone can learn to play chess and improve through study and practice.
Indeed, many past and present political and military leaders – including U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Sigmund Freud, Queen Elizabeth I and II, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, British Prime Minister Clement Atllee, Alfonso King of Spain, and Vladimir Lenin – all played chess. Many titans of industry also play chess, including Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft, Billionaire Investor George Soros, Carl Icahn, Chairman of Federal-Mogul, Peter Thiel, Co-Founder of Paypal, Jared Heck, co-founder of GroupMe and Fundera, Seth Bannon, Founder and CEO of Amicus, and Victoria Lipschitz, CEO of Grid Dynamics. In fact, Boaz Weinstein, chess player and head of Saba Capital, once said that “Chess helps me in trading, teaching me to focus on the important decisions and to accept risk.” Last week, we looked at a few useful strategies. Let’s look at some more chess strategies that can be applied to business. Continue reading

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Using Chess Strategy in Business, Part 1

Chess is one of the fairest games there is. In chess, opponents start with an identical force. The entire playing field of a chess game is out in the open. A player can see every move an opponent makes as soon as he makes it. And, in chess, no dice are used so it is never a game of “chance” and there is no luck of the draw. Moreover, there is no referee involved in chess that might “throw” a game or be partial to one side over the other.
The business world is perhaps not as fair, balanced and chivalrous as a game of chess. In business, competitors seldom start with identical workforces, and a company can easily hire a better force. In business, a lot of deal-making is done behind-the-scenes and a company might not learn about a competitor’s initiatives until much later. And, in business, a company can innovate a product or service – or how it delivers that product or service — in ways that totally change the playing field for competitors. In fact, a company can innovate to the point of actually changing the game. Think of how Uber has revolutionized short-distance transportation and how Airbnb is changing the hospitality industry.
So, in many ways, business and chess are different. That said, chess is all about strategy and tactics. The best chess players are those who have the ability to stay ahead of their opponents and strategize goals that can be achieved as quickly as possible. In that regard, running a company is a lot like a game of chess. To stay ahead of the competition, companies must think strategically and be quick to implement. That’s where chess strategy can give business leaders guidance. While many games use methods that can be incorporated into how business decisions are made, chess requires strategic decision-making, connections, timing, tactics and evaluation. Continue reading

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How to Spot and Hire A Players for Key Positions

When organizations hire employees for key positions, they want superstars. They want rainmakers and movers-and-shakers. Basically, they want A Players. They certainly don’t set out to hire 10% A Players, 80% B Players and 10% C Players. But that’s what most companies have. Still, it is fair to say that no recruiter ever hired someone knowing he would be a C Player, nor could he have known with certainty who was an A Player and who was a B Player. If only 10% of the employees at most companies are A Players, then clearly HR departments are hiring lots of B and C Players. That implies that it must be hard (or should we say nearly impossible) to distinguish between A, B and C Players.
The truth is that it is a challenge to distinguish between A, B and C Players. But when hiring for key positions, spotting A Players is essential. Certainly, companies more capable of spotting and hiring A Players for key positions will likely grow and thrive. A Players are the ones most likely to deliver creativity and innovation. They are the ones most likely to drive productivity, growth, and sales. They produce results. By the same token, it is reasonable to conclude that companies that have trouble identifying, hiring and keeping A Players will likely be less successful. So how does a manager spot and hire the A-list for his roster when they are not only hard to spot, but also when every other company is vying for the same top talent? Continue reading

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A-Players vs. B-Players: Understanding the Value of Each Type of Employee

Employees are the most valuable resource of any company. From Apple to DeBeers to Walmart, employees are the ones who lead, manage, create, innovate, implement, interact and engage with others on behalf of the company. Only in the smallest companies do the owners perform the majority of the work. In most other companies, employees do most of the work that generates profit. For that reason, recruiting and hiring individuals with the skills and qualities to fit specific openings is the hardest thing any company does… even in the most successful organizations. And it doesn’t matter if the position is an entry-level receptionist, a seasoned salesperson, a highly-technical professional position, or C-Suite executive. Each opening has an ideal set of skills and qualities that would be the best fit for that job at that company. But the more remarkable the skills and qualities needed in an employee, the harder it is to find the right person to fill that job.
Given the importance of employees, one would think that companies should seek to only hire the most talented and successful candidates for every opening. They are often referred to as A-Players. But in reality, it is neither practical nor necessary for every employee at a company to be an A-Player. The truth is that not every opening at every company requires an A-Player and most of the time B-Players are a better fit for the majority of openings. What’s the difference between an A-Player and a B-Player (and what’s a C-Player)? When is it essential to hire A-Players? And how does one tell the difference between the A, B and C-Players when they apply for a job? Continue reading

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When Teamwork Breaks Down

It was recently reported that Usain Bolt – dubbed the world’s fastest runner – was stripped of one of his nine Gold medals. Unlike other occasions when athletes have lost a medal or award, in this case Bolt himself did nothing wrong. He was not guilty of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct. Rather, Bolt lost the Olympic gold medal because his teammate, Nesta Carter, tested positive for a banned stimulant found during a re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Carter and Bolt were teammates on the winning 4×100-meter team, which set a world record of 37.10 seconds. Carter ran the opening leg, and Bolt took the baton third in the race. But doping by even one member of the team disqualified the entire team – four athletes – from the competition.
Besides being heartbreaking for the three innocent athletes, this case is indicative of the importance and vulnerability of teamwork. And it is instructive about what happens when teamwork breaks down. In truth, while people tend to think that teams are the democratic—and the efficient—way to get things done, research shows that most of the time team members don’t even agree on what the team is supposed to be doing or what is most important. Getting agreement is the leader’s job, and he must be willing to take great personal and professional risks to set the team’s direction. And if the leader isn’t disciplined about managing who is on the team and how it is set up, the odds are slim that a team will do a good job. This is certainly true in Olympic sports and – although perhaps less glamorous — it is also true in business. So what do we know about teams, why they break down and what can be done to ensure they don’t? Continue reading

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Focus on Conclusions… Not Resolutions

As the end of the fiscal year draws near, businesses hurry to finish deals, take inventories, close out books, and develop plans for the future. Grand goals are set to double sales, triple territorial reach or quadruple orders in the year ahead. People also look ahead; setting goals and preparing resolutions on how to become more successful and happier. Some make resolutions to quit smoking or lose weight. Others set lofty objectives such as start a business, write a book or run a marathon. The sound of the clock ticks louder and a feeling of urgency pushes everyone make plans and think ahead.
While all of that may sound good – and there is certainly nothing wrong with planning ahead — perhaps it is the exact opposite of what we should be doing right now? What if, instead of looking to the future, we use this momentum to look back? A look back might reveal a lot of ideas and plans that were begun but never finished. Projects that were started but never completed. Ideas that hit a road block and fizzled out. Tasks that were begun but not done. So many loose ends; so little time. Perhaps what businesses and employees should do with the last few days of the fiscal year is to make a list – not of Resolutions – but of Conclusions! Here’s how. Continue reading

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Preparing an Annual Marketing Plan

It is a lot of work to prepare an annual Marketing Plan.  After all, a company’s Marketing Plan should itemize — in great detail — all of the company’s goals, the objectives to reach those goals and the strategies to … Continue reading

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