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Improve Business Performance


Do you want to be a better leader?
Improve business performance?
Enjoy your leadership role?

    Let me offer you the chance to

  • Benefit from my experience to determine business resources you need
  • Develop business, marketing and sales strategy with good critical thinking,
  • Plan to improve marketing and brand positioning.
  • Think through staffing requirements.
  • Create targeted metrics to meet goals
  • Know variable and fixed costs to price appropriately

I am a former banker, corporate treasurer, CEO and consultant with strong marketing, finance and planning experience.  I have walked that walk and seen it from both inside and out. Learn from my mistakes. Let me help you with thinking through your plan, setting your goals, planning your next steps, and determining how to get where you want to go and executing on your plan.

Taking a holistic approach to improve business performance includes defining what you want to accomplish, evaluating what you have done and where you want to build on your accomplishments. It also means thinking through how the world in which you operate is evolving and changing so that you can anticipate what is coming and be ready to meet it.

What an Advisory Board Can Do For a Company

Role of Advisory Board

Boards  serve a useful purpose, whether they are advisory boards or have a fiduciary responsibility.  At the end of the day, any board should help to build a stronger, more profitable business.  A board’s utility is directly related to the investment made in having a useful board.   This includes thoughtful director selection,  education and regular meetings to get ideas and engagement.

What is any board’s most useful impact?  To quote Donald Rumsfeld, it is creating awareness of  the “unknown unknowns” that can impact a business, then helping management with thinking them through. It can also bring practical experience, that is not resident inside the company, to bear on specific issues that the company faces in its strategy and execution.

With the exception of an advisory board with product or market specific requirements, a  good board is composed of people with a diversity of background and views with a common goal of helping the company improve its performance. This is true for board of directors as well as an advisory board.

An advisory board is more free-wheeling than a board of directors, which has legal and fiduciary responsibilities that an advisory board does not. An advisory board can be created on an ad hoc basis for a specific purpose or period of time or it can be a longer term board for management support. Owners or executive leadership can dictate the role the advisory board plays.

I sat on a advisory board for a business in management transition. The owner was transitioning to a non-owner CEO and wanted a board to help guide the new CEO.  It lasted two years until the new CEO felt that he was on top of everything and then it ended. Another advisory board on which I sat was strictly to help a start up tech company grow its business.  Both were paying positions but the compensation was different because the circumstances and needs were different. Feel free to ask me about the differences by emailing me at kputnam@me.com.

Creating an Advisory Board

In setting up a board it is best to be clear about what the role of director or advisor is to be, what kind of skills are needed on the board, and what time commitment is expected. It is also a good idea to have some way to measure the investment of time,energy and money by setting expectations and expected outcomes. Sometimes expected outcomes are less clear and impossible to measure. Knowing these will help management determine its own time commitment to a board, what kinds of people and skills should be around the table and how much time will be expected from all parties.  Of course the role of the board and the expectations from it can and will change over time, but a good starting point is important.

On January 29,  I will be on a panel in Brockton MA discussing the role of advisory boards in private businesses put on by Sharkansky LLP.  I hope you will come and participate.

Finding Good Advice Starts With Good Questions

I am a big Seth Godin fan. His daily blog runs from the obvious but simply stated to the different and thought provoking.  That is hard to do on a daily basis. I find he often takes something ordinary and makes me see it from a different perspective.

Seth Godin writes that good advice is priceless.  “Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Not imaginary, but practical. Not based on fear, but on possibility. Not designed to make you feel better, designed to make you better.”

The real issue is finding and recognizing that good advice. Finding good advice starts with good questions asked.  One thing that measure the quality of advice is the quality of the question that is asked. How difficult is it to both ask and receive a good question. Much harder than most people realize!

Everyone gets trapped in their own thoughts and plans. An independent mind can bring a new perspective, provide validation, improve the planning process. Like the old maxim about asking why five times to get to the route of the issue, questions done well make you think.

Sometimes a good question is not one that should be answered but gives you food for thought and changes your view of the decisions to be made.

Email me if you want to get some new questions. kputnam@me.com

We can talk. and question together.

Business Failure Can Lead to Success

How many people remember that Steve Jobs wandered in the wilderness for quite a while as a leadership outcast from Apple, after he was eased out by John Sculley? Business failure can lead to success. In Silicon Valley, you are considered a better bet if you have failed at least once. This is less true for Main Street businesses.

It turns out that business failure can lead to success more often than we think, and not just for tech guys. In fact, the failure of one business combined with a willingness to try again indicates a higher likelihood of success in a subsequent attempt.

In Business Week, Karen Klein writes, “a new study suggests that people who try and fail at business are far more likely to succeed if they pick themselves up and start over again. Maybe if more entrepreneurs fessed up to failure—and more would-be entrepreneurs listened to them instead of succumbing to survivorship bias—the pitfalls of startup ventures could be avoided more often.

Survivorship bias is the belief that those who survive are somehow better leaders than those who fail. There is no accounting for luck, timing or undercapitalization in survivorship bias.

What Makes for Business Success?

In an earlier article Klein wrote, “A 2008 Harvard Business School working paper (PDF) on persistence among venture-capital-backed entrepreneurs shows first-timers “have only an 18 percent chance of succeeding and entrepreneurs who previously failed have a 20 percent chance of succeeding.” Other studies show that this number rises with each failure. Two reasons are cited: people learn far more from their mistakes than their successes, and failure weeds out those likely to not succeed the second time round.

Owning the Mistake

As Gretchen Gavett writes in her blog, When We Learn from Failure and When we Don’t,  “In their recent HBS working paper, Christopher G. Myers, Bradley R. Staats, and Francesca Gino identify what they call an ambiguity of responsibility, which plays a powerful role in determining when you learn from failure and when you don’t.

It goes something like this: When we fail, we internally pinpoint what the authors call an “attribution of responsibility – namely taking personal ownership for the outcome or blaming it on external circumstances.” If you take personal ownership, their research shows you’re much more likely to learn from and work harder after that mistake.” Clearly, owning a failure is important to learning from it.

Executing a Mistake

In their book, Billion Dollar Lessons: What you can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last Twenty Five Years, authors Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui write that really big failures often result from flawless execution of bad strategy. 

Klein quotes author David McRaney writing about cognitive bias, “Really, always think to yourself: What is missing from this story? When you’re looking for advice from a person who’s only telling you what to do—but never saying what not to do—you’re getting a biased view of the world.”

So how do you learn to get an unbiased perspective?

Take heart that learning from your mistakes will help you succeed this time or next time. Get a good strategy and think it through to save yourself from failure. And, if you fail, you will do better next time.

OR call me to think that strategy through and how best to execute it. Email me at kputnam@me.com to set up a time to talk.

Money Losing Strategy? Be Careful.

I was just thinking about a money losing strategy and the best way to do it.  I just read a blog in the Harvard Business Review entitled For Breakthrough innovation, Focus on Possibility, Not Profitability.  It is a great article.  It points to the success of Google, Keurig and others. And it was written by somebody for whom this strategy worked.

The problem is that it is not always valid.  Keurig achieved its success when it was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, who had the deep pockets to enable the reduction in costs and acquiring of partner companies to broaden the product line. Keurig was wildly successful for Green Mountain.

Many other companies have gone to the dogs by focussing on possibilities and not profits.  If you don’t have the money to lose for longer than you expect to lose it, you may be betting your ranch.  If it is other people’s money and they are willing to pursue the strategy, then it may be the making of a good story.

Is a money losing strategy right for your business? Will it pay off in the end? Email me to set up a time to discuss at kputnam@me.com

CEO Assistant – Kate Putnam

CEOs need assisting  but too many consultants have never been CEOs. That is why I have started my business – to be a CEO Assistant and counsellor. For years,  I have enjoyed learning about other people’s businesses.  I think it was why I went into banking in the first place –  so I could see how lots of businesses do things. For 18 years I ran a manufacturing business and sat on countless boards. I realized how little people who were on the outside knew about running a business. I got lots of advice from people who had never managed another soul, but found it easy to tell me how to do it. My peers on various boards loved my insights and what I brought to them. People who worked with me told me that I helped them with their business, so I am finally formalizing what I have been doing for years. My method is this.

  1. Tell me what you see your problem to be.
  2. Let me ask you clarifying questions that we can discuss.
  3. Let’s agree on what the root cause of the problem is.
  4. We come up with a structure and plan to solve it that works for you and improves your business’s performance.

If I tell you what to do or what I would do, it might not work for you.  But you need someone to ask you those questions that you might not ask yourself. That is why it needs to be collaborative.

The good news is that, as your CEO assistant and councillor, I can help you implement your idea or process or guide you to resources that can. Here is a link to the kinds of things I can do for you.