“CEOs – now the focus is on you” The Helicopter Business View

Roger Harrop

The CEO Expert

OK, the boom times are back.

– and this places an even greater focus and responsibility on business leaders than at any other time in the business cycle.

– but are we really back in the boom times? Yes, for sure we are, at least here in the UK.

I’ve recently worked with over 50 owners and leaders of recruitment companies, through the outstanding Elite Leaders network, and their statistics show that right across the country and right across the industry sectors – with the possible exception of some parts of oil and gas – there are white collar job vacancies at a level not seen for at least 10 years and the UK job market is now firmly candidate, rather than client, led.

This, for me, is the very best leading indicator of the state of the economy and I’m seeing that reflected in the companies I work with and the CEOs I meet right across the country.So what’s all this about the big responsibility on CEOs at this time?

Well, over the recent years of a rather less buoyant market place you may, either consciously or unconsciously:

  • Have allowed your margins to either stagnate or even decay
  • Have taken on customers who you would not have done in the past
  • Have introduced new products or service lines to generate sales rather than maintain margins
  • Not have the very best talent working for you.

So let’s look at each:

Margins

Let’s be clear, the only way to grow your business is by generating additional profit that you reinvest in part or in whole in that growth – and that applies whether you are a commercial business, a charity or a Not for Profit.

Quite simply if you cannot improve your margins now, then you never will!

But this won’t happen by osmosis, you the CEO – no-one else – has to force through the big decisions. You know that you’re now running a better company than you were a few years ago and some of you will have heard me say ad nauseam that:

“You deserve higher prices”

 You need to look at all your lower margin customers, all your lower margin products and services and either drop them or put through substantial price hikes.

Get your nett prices up across the board; maybe it’s 1% here and 2% there, maybe it’s getting rid of those dreaded discounts you’ve traditionally given!

Have a look at every single one. Does it really make sense to give a discount based upon quantity? – The mathematics say almost never. Do you have customers who just because they’ve been with you for a long time or because of their size you automatically give a discount? Why?

Start with a clean sheet of paper because, let’s face it, your organisation today is giving outstanding service or providing outstanding products (it must be or you would not have survived) and your prices reflect the value you give.

If you discount those prices what you are saying is that the value you give is less than you thought it was. That cannot be right.

Customers

You may have taken on customers that aren’t right for you or maybe some of your long standing customers no longer really appreciate, and are prepared to pay for, what it is that you do.

If your business is driven by either Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy rather than Operational Excellence (see my book ‘Staying in the Helicopter®‘), then quite simply any customer you have now who is buying solely on price is the wrong customer for you.

They need to go!

People

I believe we are now in the most exciting times for business ever.

To succeed in this new world we are in, however, we need a specific set of core competencies; we need to be exceptionally fleet of foot, we need to be assimilating, adopting and adapting new technology incredibly quickly, we need to be constantly looking for new markets and new opportunities.

To do all that we need to have 10/10 people throughout our organization and that means hiring the very best talent and research shows that demand for that talent is going to exceed supply between now and 2030.

You need, therefore, to take action now. You cannot afford to have any passengers and you need to ensure that your organization is truly an exceptional place to work if you are to attract the top talent.

I said earlier that now is the most exciting of times for business and one of the reasons I say that is because the playing fields have been levelled. No longer is it relevant what you did in the past, no longer is it relevant whether you are a large established organisation or a small startup, no longer is it relevant where you are based in the world. Quite simply, winning organisations of the future are the ones that are constantly looking forward and striving to be exceptional in everything they do.

Finally, I would recommend that now is the time for you not to just dust down and update that business plan but to rather prepare a wholly new strategic business plan from scratch. One that looks forward probably no further than three years, that’s probably no more than six or eight pages long, but results from you and your team having a quality of thinking about every aspect of your business and your overall strategy like never before. Where there are no sacred cows, where you think the unthinkable and where nothing is off limits.

Now is the time to do it.

Good luck – and remember now more than ever before the status quo is simply not an option!

I’ve been working a good deal recently with charities, social enterprises and Not-for-Profit organisations – including being the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the wonderful Ella Forums and a speaker and panel member at the excellent Guardian/Grant Thornton NFP Interchange initiative – and I’m afraid you don’t get off the hook either!

Increasingly what I find myself saying to these organisations is that in the world we’re now in the way by which you grow and hence give more to your beneficiaries is by being more commercial in the way that you think and act.  With very few exceptions the way you get that growth is by generating more on the bottom line to reinvest. That is the way that Not-for-Profits work just like commercial businesses and that does need to be your focus.

That means that pretty well all the things that I mention above apply to you too!

I’m really pleased that my new book –

‘WIN! – how to succeed in the new game of business’ book intr “WIN! – How to Succeed in the New Game of Business

– continues to do well with nearly 40 great reviews 

on Amazon.

Those of you who have read it will know a major theme
of mine is that you must work hard to ensure that you are
a great place to work and below is a super article on
that subject by Josh Bersin.
Also, at the risk of over kill on the amazing employee relations in place at Cosatto (where I’m just  the humble Chairman!) how about this annual initiative from Andrew Kluge, the CEO addressed to all the employees:
“It is time to launch this year’s Once in  Lifetime scheme.

For those of you that don’t quite know what this is, it  is an annual initiative to give one lucky member of our team, the opportunity to do something really special – a true Once in a Lifetime opportunity. 

Here’s how it works…..

Basically the company will fund someone up to the tune of £10,000, to do something interesting/special/amazing etc. It could be Going Overland to Timbuktu, Counting Penguins in Antarctic, Digging a Well in Africa, or Teaching kids in China. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in far flung lands or even adventurous – it could be turning some derelict land into community allotments or paying for someone to have some much needed medical treatment. It doesn’t have to be charitable but it does need to be special. 

It is all the team that chooses who wins the prize and not me or the directors, so if you wish to apply, you need to tell us all about the project and why we should choose you!! The £10k can include time off work as well as direct costs such as flights etc. The only condition is that when it is all done and dusted, you give us all some sort of presentation to show us how it went, what you experienced and what you got out of it.” 

So, what startling employee initiatives have you come up with this year?

Business Leaders –  The focus is on you!

I hope you enjoy this newsletter and find it valuable.

Thankyou for your support!

Roger Harrop