Jun - 27 - 2017

Areas of Focus

I have over 25 years of work experience doing everything from carrying out the trash to negotiating contracts, desiging job descriptions, and developing operating procedures. I also have a BBA and MBA from Ohio University. My BBA includes triple-majors in Management and Strategic Leadership, Finance, and Marketing, and the OU Integrated MBA program has a consulting focus. My years of experience, the three majors of my undergraduate education, and the consulting focus of the OU MBA, combine to support my goal of providing management consulting services to growing businesses to help them overcome their current limitations and deliver superior value to their customers, their employees, and their share holders.

There is a relevant quote from one of my management text books, a book entitled Implementing Organizational Change, theory and practice, by Bert Spector. The quote reads as follows:

Only when managers care about the legitimate interests of stockholders do they strive to perform well economically over time, and in a competitive industry that is only possible when they take care of their customers, and in a competitive labor market, that is only possible when they take care of those who serve the customers-employees.1

I find this quote especially relevant when evaluating the concept that an organization has multiple stakeholders. As a management professional it is my responsibility to understand the needs of these three constituencies; marketing to understand the needs of the customer, finance to understand the needs of the stockholders,  management to understand the needs of the employees, and strategic leadership to bring all of the pieces together to facilitate the long-term needs of all stakeholders.

Marketing

Marketing must be the primary activity in which a company engages, and all successful companies enact the marketing concept. The marketing concept "holds that achieving organizational goals depends on knowing the needs and wants of target markets and delivering the desired satisfactions better than competitors do"2. While one often hears the phrases 'sales and marketing,' or 'marketing and advertising,' these phrases reveal a fundamentally flawed view of the concept of marketing. In both cases, these phrases imply an identity between marketing and advertising, and that they occur in conjunction with the sales effort. To use an analogy, this is like equating writing with typing. It would be a critical misconception to assume that there is nothing more to writing a great novel, or a great non-fiction work, than the mere act of typing. After all, being a great typist does not immediately make one a great writer.

To continue to stretch the analogy, perhaps to the breaking point, one may note that the typing of a novel is the final action in a very thoughtful and cerebral process. In the same way, sales and advertising are the final actions in the thoughtful and careful process of identifying the customer's needs and developing a product, with all of its extended components, that will both satisfy the needs of the customer, and leave the business in a profitable position that will allow it to continue to exist for the long-term benefit of the stakeholders.

As a management professional, my focus on marketing involves constructing an environment where the marketing concept is brought to its full manifestation, and to allow the benefits of the marketing concept to pervade the organization. Constructing such an environment requires more than intention, it requires a marketing plan that encompasses a segmentation strategy, a positioning strategy, and a financial strategy.

Finance

Finance is the lifeblood of a company. This analogy is so pervasive that the term 'hemorrhaging cash' has made it into the vernacular. Finance is also the muscle. This analogy is also so pervasive that the phrase 'financial muscle' has entered the vernacular. While it is common to associate finance with complex trading strategies or creative portfolio management, these are but two aspects of the very large field of study that is finance. My interest in finance focuses on the financial management of an organization. While it is true that 'hope is not a strategy,' having lots of cash on hand could be. Profitable businesses, both small and large, generally fail because they run out of cash. The two main reasons for this situation are under-capitalization, and failure to be appropriately profitable.

Under-capitalization is the plague of small business, especially in the start up phase. This in turn is usually the result of failure to plan, or a failure to manage to the plan. Small businesses often start without any business plan at all. Frequently, the ones that do develop a plan do so only to convince the bank to provide a loan. If they are very lucky the loan officer may actually read their plan and deny the loan. If not, the bank will simply accept the business owner's house as collateral, and let him or her 'bet the farm.'

The small businesses that do go to the (significant) trouble of developing a realistic and workable plan often fail to use it for managing the business. Generally, the plan identifies the necessary sales levels and margins needed for the business to remain viable. Once the business is funded, the owners typically drop the plan in a drawer and focus on the day-to-day operations. As Thomas Covey might put it, they are focusing on the urgent over the important. This leads to significant deviations from the plan, and the business owner often fails to correct the financial trajectory until it is too late.

As a management professional, my focus is on constructing a financial environment where the organization has the funds necessary to support the marketing effort that allows the company to satisfy the needs of the customer. Of course, constructing such an environment requires more than simple intention, it requires careful management of the activities taking place within the company.

Management

If marketing is the primary activity of the organization, and finance its blood and muscle, then management is the brain. It is only through careful management that the company's goals and visions come to be. Just as the brain receives input from the senses, so managers must be aware of the world, both outside and inside the company. Managing is the delicate task of enabling the employees engaged in marketing to identify profitable possibilities to which development, manufacturing, and operations, can respond, and to make sure that they all have the necessary financial resources to accomplish their tasks.

This is by no means to imply that management 'calls the shots.' If you are fortunate enough to hire good people, then a heavy-handed command culture will only sap their creativity and enthusiasm, and drive them to take their skills elsewhere. Good management establishes the goals, hires appropriate people, and then empowers them to apply their skills to achieving the goals. The goal of management must be to create an environment where all employees can focus, fearlessly, on satisfying the needs of the customer, knowing that they have the support, confidence, and admiration of their managers.

Creating this environment requires that the employees trust the management to make decisions that balance the needs of all stakeholders. Establishing this trust requires that the management behave ethically, listen carefully and thoughtfully, and above all, communicate clearly and honestly. Since there are legitimate conflicts in the interests of the various stakeholders, management must resolve these conflicts by balancing the human, social, and financial implications of each decision.

While there are inherent conflicts among the various stakeholders, they also have a common interest; the future of the organization. There is no decision that management makes that has more significant implications for the future of the organization than establishing the organizational mission, vision, and goals. This requires more than transactional management, it requires strategy and leadership.

Strategic Leadership

The future is is coming soon and, as Warden and Russell noted in Winning in Fast Time, "the future is not an optional event. Everyone will attend"3. If the organization is to 'perform well economically over time,' it must address the changing needs of its customers, and potentially, the changing of its customers. In order to do this its market offerings must change over time. This means that jobs, work processes, and organizational structure all must change over time.

Organizational structure goes far beyond the formal hierarchical relationships. Organizational structure is embedded in the employee's relationships with, and expectations of, one another. Strategic leadership is thus about changing an organization's goals and culture, and that means changing people and their relationships. Recognizing why these things must change, and developing a response, is the realm of strategy. Bringing these changes about while minimizing their human and financial costs is the realm of leadership.

Strategy has been a subject of discussion and debate for as long as there have been organizations. Any student of strategy will be familiar with authors as diverse as Sun Tzu and Michael Porter. These authors, and a multitude of others, have presented various theories, approaches, methodologies, and views on how one develops an appropriate strategy. Whether one selects a specific theory or browses among all of them for jewels of wisdom, they all require the development of a vision for the future, and the communication of that vision to the people who must make it real. In whatever way the strategy is developed, enacting it requires leadership.

Like strategy, leadership has been a subject of debate for as long as there have been organizations. Any student of leadership will be familiar with authors as diverse as Plato and Edgar Schein. There are books and studies, approaches and methodologies, theories and hypotheses as far as the eye can see. The literature covers transactional leadership, visionary leadership, managerial leadership, transformational leadership, situational leadership, and strategic leadership. Ultimately, a leader's style must be his or her own. This is not to say that there are no common threads in the realm of leadership, but there is no canned approach.

The most critical components of leadership are communication and trust. The leader must communicate a vision of a desirable future, and a plan of action that will achieve it. Additionally, the leader must have the trust of his or her followers; trust that the vision is attainable, that problems can be overcome, and that the leader holds their best interests at heart. From these two threads of leadership arise tremendous responsibility.

The leader has the responsibility to behave ethically and, as much as possible, assure a successful outcome that balances and protects the interests of the stakeholders. In order to achieve this success the leader must use the tools of organizational development and change management. The leader must persistently advance the changes in order to support the organizations long-term success, and simultaneously support the emotional well-being of the employees as they adapt to the changing environment. Organizational development does not happen in theory, or on paper, it happens in the hearts and minds of individuals. It is a difficult process, and the leader's responsibility is to make it as painless as possible. As Max De Pree put it in Leadership is an Art: "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor"4.

Personal Goals

My goal as a management professional, and management consultant, is to assist my employer and my clients in identifying the issues that negatively affect their organization's performance, to help formulate appropriate and effective strategies that address these issues, and to provide planning and guidance that will bring these new strategies to fruition. In addition to direct assistance, it is my goal to provide my clients with a conceptual framework with which to continue the process of organizational development, to convey valuable knowledge that provides for their long-term success, and finally, to be well compensated for my contributions to their success.


1. Implementing Organizational Change, theory and practice, Bert Spector, Prentice Hall 2007, pg 72. Citing Kotter and Heskett, Corporate Culture and Performance.

2. marketing: and introduction, Armstrong, Kotler 7e, Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

3. Winning in FastTime, John A. Warden III, Leland A. Russell, Venturist Publishing 2006, pg 51.

4. Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, Currency Doubleday 2004, pg 11.

 


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