Game Plan for New Leaders
IN THE FEBRUARY 2008 ISSUE OF THE Harvard Business Review, Gott fredson et al1 look at the role of the incoming CEO or general manager. From 1999 to 2006, they note, the average tenure of departing CEOs in the United States fell from 10 years to just over eight, and in 2006, around 40% of departing CEOs had lasted an average of 1.8 years. The article states, “Some of these short-timers were simply a poor fit and left of their own accord, but many others were ushered out the door because they appeared unable to improve” the performance of their businesses. “Nobody these days gets much time to show what he or she can do.”1 That is why it is crucial for a new leader to identify ways to boost profitability, broaden market share, or edge out the competition within the first few months of his or her tenure in the new position. Vital to this process is a detailed and accurate assessment of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the threats and opportunities that it faces. What’s needed, the authors write, “is a systematic diagnostic template that can be tailored as necessary” 1 to suit the situation of the individual business. The diagnostic template prescribed by the article must meet three criteria: it must reflect an understanding of the fundamentals of business performance; it must be simultaneously comprehensive and focused; and it should be easy to communicate about it and take action on it. The authors offer a template based on four key performance-improvement principles. First, a decline in both costs and prices nearly always takes place. Second, the company’s options are determined by its competitive position. Third, stasis will occur in neither customers nor profit pools. Fourth, results stem from simplicity. Analyze Costs and Prices The first tenet of the template states that costs and prices almost always decline. The article notes that despite inflation and special circumstances that can drive costs and prices upward, “It is a well-established fact that inflation-adjusted costs—and therefore inflation-adjusted prices—decline over time in nearly every competitive industry.”1 The same principle is, of course, true of competitors, meaning that it is possible to determine whether costs are declining at the rate necessary for your organization to remain competitive. When analyzing costs and prices, determine the trends affecting price changes in your industry for the types of products and services that your company offers. Compare cost curves for your business, your industry, and your competitors (and, for key competitors, compare curves within each cost area). After finding out which company has the highest efficiency and effectiveness in the most important areas, decide where you can make the most improvement. Ask yourself why your profitable products and services are making money and apply that knowledge to the others. Evaluate Your Competitive Position Knowing your organization’s competitive position determines the options for improving its standing. Although every industry has its own drivers of profit leadership, in general, a strong predictor of any organization’s performance is its relative market share (RMS). To calculate RMS as a market leader, divide your organization’s share by the share held by your closest competitor; to calculate RMS as a follower, divide your organization’s share by that of the market leader. For most companies, higher relative market share corresponds with a higher return on assets (ROA). The authors recommend building a chart that maps the relationship between your RMS and ROA, as well as those of your key competitors. “Companies in a well-defined industry typically line up in a fairly narrow band, reflecting the fact that market leaders usually outperform market followers on ROA,”1 they note. This band analy sis reveals your organization’s oppor tunities and constraints. When analyzing your competitive position, ask how the ROA and RMS figures for your company and your competitors compare. Find out what the leading companies have as their profit sources, the size of the market and its areas of most rapid growth, and the potential implied by your company’s current business position. Determine where you are gaining RMS and which capabilities are creating that competitive advantages, as well as where you are losing RMS and which capabilities must be added or strengthened to stop the drain. Understand Your Industry’s Profit Pool Customers and profit pools don’t stand still; that’s why it’s crucial to study customer needs and behavior by segment. The authors recommend developing a segment needs and performance chart. The x axis will mark attributes that are important to consumers, such as price, quality, customer service, and innovation; the y axis will measure the importance of these attributes, allowing you to gauge how well you’re meeting consumers’ needs. Other important considerations under this tenet of the diagnostic template include tracking customer retention and loyalty and anticipating profit-pool shifts. The authors state, “CEOs and general managers naturally need to assess how much of their industry’s profit pools their firms own today” but must also “gauge how profit pools are likely to change in the future and what opportunities or threats these shifts may create.”1 Key assessment steps in this area are determining which customer segments are largest, most profitable, and growing most rapidly. Find out how much of the profit pool your company captures today and how that pool might change. In comparison with competitors, how well does your company meet the needs of customers, what percentage of those customers does it retain, and what opportunities or threats can it expect? Simplify The template’s fourth and final tenet is that simplicity gets results. The authors cite a Bain & Co survey2 of 960 executives worldwide that assessed the relationship between complexity and business health; nearly 70% of respondents said that complexity raised costs and inhibited growth. To diagnose your organization’s level of complexity, the authors recommend looking at the degree of complexity found in your products and services and evaluating that complexity’s impact, location, and cost. The complexity may reside not only in product/service offerings but in organizational structure and decisionmaking methods. If the complexity is not directly responsible for making your business stand out in the minds of your customers, it is probably a detriment. Once you’ve diagnosed your organization’s position, take the next step by setting specific goals and launching initiatives to drive your company to achieve them during your tenure as CEO or manager. “Because [the objectives] stem from a comprehensive diagnosis, everyone can understand them and see why they are important,” the article concludes. “Both managers and employees are more likely to buy in and put their shoulders to the wheel.”1