Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CEO Forum II Focuses on Strategy

This past week we also hosted our second HTG CEO Forum in Denver. Our initial meeting was talked about here. We had 14 companies represented and we had an amazing time together. Our time began with a checkup on goals from the last session. Some work still to be done there, but folks are working hard to make that transition to the CEO role. It is a very big change of mindset and thinking for most of us.

We had a special visit from Colleen Abdullah who is CEO of WOW – an Internet, cable, telephony provider. It was a very engaging hour and a half as she shared her transition into that role and the success she has had as she created a culture of being focused on the customer – both internal and external. That is the secret sauce – paying attention to people. Colleen is a great role model as she took over a company that was doing $9 million and today is doing many times that in revenue – over $500 million as I recall. She has done it by excelling in the people business. She admitted that her products were not all that different or unique – hard to differentiate in a market where everyone pretty much has the same tools and offerings. But where WOW wins is in the hearts of their customers and people as they provide a level of service and caring that is unique to their industry. They “WOW” their employees and end users and win in the markets they serve.

She also challenged us to stay close to customers and our teams. Her approach is to take time monthly to ride in the trucks and be on the phones with her staff. She stays connected to what is happening. She is also active in the association representing smaller cable providers. A great lesson here – we need to be engaged with our industry in watching legislation and other influences that will impact us. Silence is not golden when it comes to lobbying the legislative process.

We shifted gears after that as my son Pete shared about the importance of process. He taught us about Six Sigma and Lean as tools that can be used to help create standardized methodology and take cost out of our businesses. These are enterprise level tools but they contain many facets that will work effectively for us in small business. We just need to learn and understand how to use the things that fit to help keep us competitive in the marketplace. As commoditization ramps in managed services and cloud solutions – efficiency and taking cost out will be the name of the game. These types of skills will be important for us to compete effectively.

Day two was spent with Ryan Morris from MMP. He led us through a full day workshop on strategic planning – one of the key roles a CEO needs to fulfill. Ryan broke things down and helped us understand the basics of strategy. It isn’t necessarily rocket science, but rather a persistent and total focus on a single objective. Not the scatter gun, throw it up on the wall and see what sticks, hope I guessed right, sell to whoever will write a check kind of approach. Those don’t work as you grow a company. He assured us that we will not always get it right, but we need to set and then monitor and change our strategy on an ongoing basis.

The reality is that strategy is really only effective with about a 3 year look forward. Beyond that it is more of a general goal. His guidance is a detailed 6 month plan, followed by an 18 month set of objectives that point to a three year strategy. It must be evaluated and tweaked every quarter and is not failure if it needs adjustment. We learned that key factors that impact our strategic plan – like resources and external factors – are outside our control and will change. Sometimes that change will require us to tweak our strategy and we need to be on top of it so we get that done.

It was a great combination – discussion around strategy and process – as those are the two keys to running a successful long term organization. Both need to be on the radar of the CEO. They both are a lot of hard work, so job security is built in. But as we listened to our trainers, and to our guest expert, we had to have heard those words a few hundred times. Success is not accidental. Luck and timing can play a part for sure – but success happens when leaders plan and execute and tweak and execute and revise and execute. If things are not going well in your company – time to go look in the mirror. You may need to have a talk with yourself!

No comments: