March 20, 2014
Pets.com became a publicly traded company on Valentines Day 2000. Overnight it raised 82.5 million big ones. In their Prospectus, they listed 7 keys to their strategy and over 30 risks related to their business.
While the risks were significant, the real problem was that none of their 7 keys represented any type of sustainable advantage. There was nothing unique about Pets.com and so they tried to compete on price – actually selling products for less than what they bought them for and offering free shipping. Imagine that… shipping heavy bags of dog food for free and for less than what you bought it for. Doesn’t sound very sustainable.
On Election Day, just 268 days after Pets.com’s IPO, George W. Bush would become the 43rd President of the United States and Pets.com would go out of business. That’s like losing just over 307 thousand dollars a day! While investors lost millions, at least some of their money was spent on memorable commercials.
Share the YouTube video in your next team meeting. Discuss the following:
- In the video, did you notice the dates? Point out that in just 268 days Pets.com went from IPO to liquidation.
- Have someone divide 82.5 million by 268. Talk about what your team could do with $307 thousand dollars a day.
Pass out the Pets.com Strategy & Risks PDF:
- What do you think it means to have a sustainable advantage?
- As you look at Pets.com’s strategy can you identify what would make them unique or different from other pet supply stores? Discuss how Pets.com tried to compete on price and talk about why that would be a challenge.
- Point out that there were 4 online pet stores in 2000 and lots of brick and mortar stores to complete against. How hard would it be for competitors to implement parts of Pets.com’s strategy?
- What do you think our company’s sustainable advantage is? What makes us unique in the marketplace? What would our competitors say was their sustainable advantage?
- As you look at Pets.com’s risks how well do you think their strategy addressed those risks?
- Which risks do we share as a company? Some of the bolded items in the list are common risks many companies face.
- What has our executive team done to mitigate some of our risk?
- What is our team’s strategy and how well does our strategy align with some of the risks that our company faces?
As a team, write down some of the risks you need to plan for. You can refer to Pets.com’s risks to help brainstorm some ideas. For example, an HR team might share this risk with Pets.com:
HIRE AND RETAIN PERSONNEL
An IT team might share this risk:
SYSTEMS FAILURE OR DATA CORRUPTION
Discuss the relationship between risks and a sustainable advantage. What would happen to your company’s sustainable advantage if these risks were taken lightly? Challenge your team to use their business acumen to improve processes that mitigate risks and ultimately help your company maintain or achieve a sustainable advantage.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 10 and read the section: Influencing the Whole
January 19, 2014
Before there was an Amazon, there was the paperback version – the Sears catalog. Started in 1893, Sears was America’s top retailer for nearly 8 decades. At one time, 3 out 4 Americans would shop at a Sears in the course of a year and Sears’ gross sales would account for 1% of the United State’s gross national product. Sears was big business and now they’re barely limping along. What happened?
This statement from a 1978 top secret executive report might give us some clues:
“We are not a fashion store. We are not a store for the whimsical, nor the affluent. We are not a discounter… We are not a store that anticipates… And we must all look on what we are, and pronounce it good! And seek to extend it. And not to be swayed from it by the attraction of other markets, no matter how enticing they might be.”
Well, they weren’t kidding when they said they’re not a store that anticipates.
Share the online slideshow in your next meeting and discuss the following with your team:
- What did Sears not see?
- What innovations helped Wal-Mart win?
- If you were Sears’ CEO back in 1978, what would your strategy have been?
- If you were Sears’ CEO today, what would your strategy be?
- What do you think, does our company watch for milestones or enact them? How about our team?
- What can we do better to anticipate the future?
Give each team member a index card and on one side have them write down a future that they would like to see unfold. For example, a team member might identify a future where they complete a project successfully or they might see a future where they make it to President’s Club.
On the back of the card have them write down the steps, or milestones, that will enable that future to occur.
Finally, challenge them to use their business acumen to think of ways that they can deliberately enact the steps that they’ve identified (not just watch them pass by).
You may want to review these cards periodically in future meetings.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 88 and read the section: Anticipation and Innovation
December 21, 2013
A group of computer engineers were challenged to, no surprise here, figure out ways to support their company’s initiative to cut costs.
One would think that a group of geeky computer engineers would come up with some new fandangled technology or some complex algorithm, but instead of overthinking a problem, or worse, overthinking a solution… they came up with a simple idea that was easy to implement. In fact, the popular TV show MythBusters proved that their idea really does save money. Further, the engineer’s innovation helped support their company’s environmental initiatives.
See if you can guess who this company is…
In between each slide have your team write down their guess of who they think the company is. Tell them that if they shout out their guess before the big reveal at the end they’ll be asked to pack up their stuff and security will escort them out (kidding, but seriously keep it to yourself). Once the slideshow is done, see who guessed the company first (and maybe offer the winner a prize). Then discuss the following as a team…
- What are some of the pitfalls of overthinking problems and solutions? You may want to list their answers on a whiteboard.
- How can our team avoid some of these pitfalls?
- What role does creativity play in solving problems?
- In what ways can simple solutions have an unexpected impact on our team’s success?
October 3, 2013
At its heart “business acumen” means knowing how your company makes money, and making better decisions around the money you make, no matter your role.
A company that doesn’t know how it makes money isn’t likely to make more.
When we teach people to “see the big picture,” we’ll often ask a pretty simple question, “How does your company, specifically, make money?” Too often the responses are laden with overly complex pontifications about some statistic that’s pretty meaningless… but hey, it sounds smart.
The bottom line: Avoid unnecessary complexity and remember what Einstein said…
“Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible – But Not Simpler.”
- What do you think, do we make our business and/or our jobs more complex than they need to be? In what ways?
- Sometimes business and our jobs are complex, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s the impact of unnecessary complexity?
- Are there complexities, such as an overburdensome process or a term that only makes sense to our team, that we can eliminate?
- Share the quote from Einstein. What do you think he means? How can we apply this thinking to our jobs?
- As a team lets try and describe in one sentence what our team does and in a second sentence describe how we contribute to our company’s money making process.
the take away
August 15, 2013
In 1985 Coca-Cola did the unthinkable – they changed their formula to challenge Pepsi’s surge in the marketplace . It didn’t go over too well. Thousands-upon-thousands of furious customers called Coca-Cola demanding that they bring back their old Coke. Letters were sent to the CEO, Roberto Goizueta, addressing him as, “Dear Mr. Dodo…” To celebrate, Pepsi gave their employees the day off – they figured they had won the cola wars. And to this day, Coke’s formula change is regarded as one of the worst business decisions of all time. But was it?
Coca-Cola’s executives moved fast. Within 79 days they announced the return of original Coca-Cola. So not only did Coca-Cola take a risk with New Coke, they took, quite possibly, a greater risk… admitting that they got it wrong. It worked! Since 1985 Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola in the US and around the world (today Pepsi’s not even close).
“If you take risks, you may still fail; if you do not take risks, you will surely fail. The greatest risk of all is to do nothing.”
CEO of The Coca-Cola Company: 1980-1997
Watch the 1985 New Coke video as a team and then discuss the following:
- What did Coca-Cola get right, what did they get wrong?
- What do you think about that last statement: “The greatest risk of all is to do nothing.”? Don’t you think Coca-Cola wished they had never introduced New Coke?
- Coca-Cola’s CEO didn’t fire anyone over the New Coke debacle, instead he encouraged employees to continue to take “intelligent risks”. What do you think he means by “intelligent risks”?
- What are some of the positive and negative consequences of taking risks?
- Where do think our team is? Do we avoid taking risks, do we take too many risks, or do we take intelligent risks?
- What are some of the risks our team has taken recently? Discuss the positives and negatives of these risks.
- What obstacles prevent us from taking risks? How can we remove these obstacles?
- What are the unspoken consequences of making the wrong bet on our team?
the take a way…
Challenge your team to to do an Internet search for the worst business decisions of all time. Encourage everyone to share their findings in your next team meeting, and together use your business acumen to create your own Top 10 list of failed business decisions.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 94 and read about how Toyota made intelligent risks to help them get back on track after an onslaught of setbacks.
June 1, 2013
Businessweek recently featured a company on their cover as being, “The Cheapest, Happiest, Company in The World.” The hallways of their corporate offices are lined in faded blue carpet that looks like it needs to be replaced, their boardroom is furnished with faux-wood tables, they don’t give out shopping bags, and their shopping centers offer very little frills (other than an occasional free sample).
Despite their fundamental focus on thrift, this company pays their hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour and eighty-eight percent of their employees have company sponsored health insurance. By comparison, their largest competitor pays around $12.67 an hour. The bottom-line: they treat their employees well in the belief that a happier work environment will result in a more profitable company. That formula seems to be working, their sales have grown 39% and their stock price has doubled since 2009.
Who’s the company? Watch the slide show below and see if you can guess.
In between each slide have your team write down their guess of who they think the company is. Tell them that if they blabber out a guess before the end of the slideshow they’ll be given a pink slip (kidding, but seriously keep it to yourself). Once the slideshow is done, see who guessed the company first (and maybe offer the winner a prize). Then discuss the following as a team…
- What do you think about the following statements:
“We know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”
“…it’s about creating value, about treating your employees and customers well, and respecting your vendors – and ultimately rewarding your shareholders in the process.”
- As you think about our team… how frugal are we? Are we thrifty in the right areas? Too cheap in some areas?
- As a team how can we treat our customers better? Remember that your customers include your team members and colleagues from different departments.
the take away…
Choose a company that you either admire or buy from and assess whether or not your chosen company does a good job at balancing profits and people. Encourage everyone to share their findings in your next team meeting, and together use your business acumen to make a list of good and bad examples of balancing profits and people.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 81 and read the section: Employees: The Foundation of Success
April 29, 2013
When you hear leaders say that a new strategy is going to improve the bottom line, they are talking about net profit (sometimes called net income or net earnings) – because net profit is generally the last line, or the bottom line, on the income statement. Net profit is simply all revenues/sales minus all expenses.
So there are two fundamental ways to improve the bottom line: increase revenues (sell more) and/or reduce expenses (spend less). That sounds pretty easy – and sometimes it is – but more often than not strategies based on either of these goals can be difficult to execute and can have unexpected results. For example, sometimes increasing revenues requires making investments that might not earn a return in the near future – or at all. Likewise, growing revenues by raising prices could have the effect of lowering sales. Improving the bottom line is almost always the main strategy of a company.
Share this AirTran commercial in your next team meeting…
Watch the video above as a team and then answer and discuss the following…
- In the video the boss says that he needs everyone to think of ways to improve the bottom line. What is the bottom line?
- If there are two fundamental ways to improve the bottom line: increase revenues or reduce expenses… what do you think this underperforming office was doing?
- As you think about our team’s top initiatives or projects… are they aimed at increasing sales or decreasing expenses?
- If our boss called a meeting asked us to think of ways to improve the bottom line, what would you suggest?
the take away…
Depending on your team’s role, it might be difficult to pinpoint how your team can impact revenues, but everyone can usually identify a simple way to reduce a cost or improve an efficiency. Encourage everyone on your team to use their business acumen to come up with a cost cutting measure. Explain that many simple ideas can combine to have a big impact on the bottom line.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 33 and read the section: The Bottom Line and Other Measures of Profit
March 28, 2013
Customers often don’t recognize their own needs or how to meet them; they don’t recognize the possibilities. Keeping current customers and attracting new ones means anticipating needs that they might never articulate. Therefore, it is essential to continually innovate products and services to stay a few steps ahead of your customers and your competitors.
And remember, it’s just as important to innovate inside the organization to ensure that internal customers will be better able to serve the external ones.
Print or display this picture that compares Saint Peter’s Square in 2005 vs 2013:
- What’s the obvious difference between 2005 and 2013?
- What role do you think innovation played in bringing about this difference?
- What innovations has our company brought to the marketplace?
- What internal innovations help drive the success of our company? Remember that innovation isn’t just about products and services delivered to customers – you could have an innovative hiring process or an innovative office layout.
- Do you think we have an innovative team?
- What can we do as a team to be more innovative – to anticipate the solutions that our customers may not even realize they need? Remember, even if you don’t interact directly with external customers, you still have internal customers (colleagues and other departments) that rely on you for services.
February 25, 2013
We thought it might be fun to spotlight a different Acumen Learning employee every month!
For the month of February, I thought that I would start out by spotlighting the woman who is the glue that holds our company together. She is the kind of person that does everything and anything to make our company better, and is positive and fun along the way. She will bend over backwards for people to make sure they are on the right flights, and have everything they need in order to deliver successful training sessions to our clients. We don’t know what we would do without her!
Name: Sharon Biegler
Tell us about yourself in one sentence: “I am a getting-older-by-the-minute girl, who still thinks I’m young and trying to have fun.”
How long have you worked at Acumen Learning? 9 1/2 years
What do you do at Acumen Learning? Office Manager, AR/AP book keeping, travel coordination
What is your family at home like? ”Small- Just Steve, Kristen, Annie & Kellen and me – plus a dog. They are all a bunch of smart alek’s and don’t take things too seriously.”
What is your favorite hobby outside the office? “I love to ski and bake”
What is your favorite thing about Acumen Learning? “Working with fun, smart, hard-working people”
What is one word to describe the people at Acumen Learning? -”What else = Bitchin’ ”
Oh, and did I mention that today is her Birthday?? Happy Birthday, Sharon!
Be sure to watch the video below on how we at Acumen Learning say Happy Birthday to our employees.
February 22, 2013
For the uninitiated, financial statements can seem overwhelming. But they don’t have to be. The key is to understand that, unless you’re a CFO or a financial analyst or a commercial loan manager, you don’t have to understand everything in these statements to discover important clues about the health and sustainability of a company. Just like you don’t have to be a certified electrician with a deep understanding of the wiring digram in your home to turn on a light switch. Similarly, you just need to know which primary switches turn on the right financial lights – and how you, in your individual role, can help keep the lights burning H2 by making smart decisions.
Watch this video from Kevin Cope, author of the bestselling book, Seeing the Big Picture:
Watch the video as a group in your next meeting and discuss the following…
- Kevin gives 5 reasons for understanding financial statements (you may want to list those 5 reasons on the board or tell your team to note the reasons as they watch the video). Discuss how understanding financial statements can benefit your credibility, career, and company.
- What did the Russian say when introducing Kevin? Do you think he’s right?
- Project your screen and navigate to your company’s most recent financial statements (or if everyone on your team brings their laptop, see who can find the company’s financials the fastest). The goal is for everyone to know where to find the financials.
- Bring a print out of your P&L, Balance Sheet, and Income Statement and 4 different colors of highlighters. In groups have your team highlight the connections between the three different financials.
- Discuss the path from Sales/Revenues to Shareholders. What part of the path seems to be the H2est? What part of the path gets the most attention from executives? What part of the path does your team have the most influence on?
- Bring a print out of your competitors 3 financial statements (or the financials of a company you admire) and highlight and discuss the path from Sales/Revenues to Shareholders. How does their path compare to your company?
the take away…
Quarter after quarter, and year after year… you and your team should print out your financial statements and use your business acumen to follow the path from Sales to Shareholders. Pay particular attention to trends – how has the story changed from the last period or from the same period a year ago? If you work for a private company do this activity by choosing a public competitor or a company you admire.
If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) read the first section of Chapter 7 starting on page 110: Deciphering Financial Statements and the Annual Report.
February 7, 2013
I came across this enlightening article by Jessica Lee called The Power of Positive Thinking and Business Success. She talks about how our mind is so powerful, and our thoughts control how we live our every day lives. Positive thinking can absolutely impact the success of a business. She goes on to say, “ The No. 1 rule that people tell us over and over again is not to believe in limitation. Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Belief in limitation creates limitation. These false beliefs block motivation and harvest fear.”
Limiting ourselves in the workplace can definitely make a negative impact in your day to day lives at the office. If we approach our business endeavors with “I can” and “I will”, then it will change our path to success. Jessica goes on to say that first we need to focus on ourselves. Make us the best version of ourselves that we can be. Don’t limit ourselves. Take responsibility for our actions, thoughts, and attitudes. Know that we have the power to change those things ourselves, but it is up to us to take those steps to change. She also talks about how we need to realize that we cannot control the outcome of situations, but we can control how we react to them. This is so important! And after we focus on ourselves, then we can focus on our coworkers. Help them. Motivate them. Support them. But most importantly, BELIEVE in them. Jessica says, “No matter how inexperienced they might be, no matter how difficult they might be, no matter what the circumstances are, when you begin to believe that people can achieve, they start to believe in themselves. They start to achieve. When you reach out from a place of willingness, things begin to happen. When you exude an attitude of enthusiasm and willingness, it can create immeasurable value to your workplace.”
I loved this article because sometimes in business we can easily be swept into a negative tornado where it’s hard to see a way out or a light at the end of the tunnel. But this article tell us that we don’t have to let the tornado take us down! Our attitudes and actions in the workplace are all up to us. The power of positive thinking is so important because it is contagious and people around us at our jobs will be able to feel our positive energy.
Read the full article here about The Power of Positive Thinking and Business Success.
January 29, 2013
For a different topic today, let’s talk about resolutions.
January 17, 2013
Richard Branson is not your average entrepreneur. At the age of 15 he dropped out of school and, despite suffering from dyslexia, went on to found Virgin Group, a business empire that includes airlines, cellphone companies, banks, hotels, health clubs and even a space travel business. He’s worth over $4 Billion and he owns his own island. In short, the guy is loaded… and he’s been knighted.
And so when we saw this answer to one of his Twitter followers questions it grabbed our attention:
Now when an über-rich dude admits to not knowing the difference between gross and net, that’s one thing… but it could be career suicide if you or someone on your team admitted to this in the wrong setting. So we’re here to help.
- Does every know who Richard Branson is? Maybe pull up www.virgin.com and browse around the site as a group. Click on Companies on the top navigation and explore some of the companies started by Richard Branson.
- Discuss Richard’s answer that he wished he understood the difference between gross and net earlier in life. Does that answer surprise anyone?
- Explain that 90% of employees don’t understand important business measures – so Richard is not alone.
Gross is the total and Net is the part of the total that really matters.
And then work together to come up with some examples. Here are some ideas:
Gross is the total amount of fish in the sea, but all that really matters is how many fish are in your Net… this is how Richard Branson was first taught the difference between Gross and Net.
Your Net pay is how much money you bring home each month after taxes, insurance, and other deductions are taken from your Gross pay.
When looking at a P&L or Income Statement the most important measure is the bottom-line or Net Profit. For example, an executive could brag that her company’s Gross Profit was $100 billion dollars, but does that really matter if the company had over $150 billion in expenses?
November 27, 2012
So often in our attempts to get on the same page, we overlook the fact that organizations — like books — have many different pages. It’s how all of the pages combine to create the entire book, or the entire organization, that is most important. In your company (and most others), the various functions and departments (the pages) have different areas of focus.
It’s entirely appropriate for different functions to focus on the 5 Key Drivers (Cash, Profit, Assets, Growth & People) in different ways at different times. But with this focus, they need to make sure they are not sub-optimizing the whole. They must continually see the big picture and understand how their actions are affecting all of the drivers.
For instance, if senior leadership says that profitability is all-important this quarter and asks employees to identify ways to reduce costs, you should certainly follow that lead. However, you have to apply your business acumen to make smart, productive decisions. Cutting costs too much could adversely affect product and service quality, reducing customer satisfaction and leading to lower sales and… you guessed it… profits.
Apple’s recent management shakeup is a good example of two executives who were either focused on the wrong thing or too focused on one thing:
October 22, 2012
You and I both know plenty of bright colleagues and peers who have years of experience and know everything there is to know about their particular function—HR, operations, marketing, sales, engineering, or some other role—but who would rather have a root canal than to have to give an opinion or interpretation of the company’s latest financial results.
And yet, business is a NUMBERS game.
When you are seen as only focusing on your function because you don’t understand the numbers, you can quickly lose credibility. That doesn’t mean you need to magically turn into an accountant to do your job well, but it does mean that you need to acknowledge the important role that numbers play in business.
October 16, 2012
September 22, 2012
What do they say about cash? Cash is King!, Cash is a company’s oxygen supply, and our favorite from Al Shugart, Cash is more important than your mother. While we’re sure Al loves his mother, he’s making the point of how important cash is to a business. In fact, the number one reason start-ups fail is they underestimate how much cash they’ll need.
Cash is important to big business too. Take Ford and GM… prior to the recent economic crisis Ford went out and borrowed $23 billion dollars and set it aside. People thought they were crazy (they even mortgaged their iconic blue oval logo), but when hard times hit Ford had enough cash on hand to weather the downturn. GM on the other hand borrowed billions from US taxpayers, President Obama fired their CEO, and they declared banckruptcy because they didn’t have a strong enough cash position to continue their operations. In short…
The only unforgivable sin in business, is to run out of cash.
— Harold Geneen
August 16, 2012
Too often in careers, people become narrow in their perspective – entrenched in their roles. They focus on what they have to get done today or this week (tactical) and lose sight of the bigger picture (strategy). In other words, they do a good job… but they either do the wrong things, or they do the right things for the wrong reasons (think about it).
If you want to be the type of employee that management can’t imagine running the business without, you can’t be just another corporate robot. You have to not only be willing to roll up your sleeves and get the job done – you also need the perspective that will help you do the right things really well.
June 25, 2012
Established in 1951 in the aftermath of World War II, Japan Airlines came to symbolise Japan’s post war recovery with this aspiring mission statement:
We will not only transport people and goods to their respective destinations safely and on time, but will also bring peoples, their cultures and their hearts closer together as our contribution to world peace and prosperity.
Unfortuntaly on January 20, 2010 Asia’s largest airline by revenue sought court protection from creditors to grapple with a debt load of $25 billion, a level well above its cash flow. The airline would go onto to layoff over 14,000 employees, the CEO and board would resign, and the company’s stock would be delisted leaving shareholders with nothing.
Employees must exercise their business acumen set and achieve goals in order to accomplish the most important objective for any company: long-term, sustainable profitability to support its mission. Remember: No Margin… No Mission!
April 16, 2012
Acumen Learning has surveyed thousands of people and asked about their internal customers (the people they work with or serve within their organization). The results consistently show that departments and individual employees think they provide better internal customer service than they recieve. We tend to judge others by their actions, while we judge ourselves by our intentions. However, as with external customers, perception is reality.
Smart employees recognize that their colleagues are also their customers. And smart leaders think like Stephen R. Covey, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customer.”
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