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Over the past 5 years the importance of the “High Growth Business” and how this relatively small group of businesses disproportionally impa...

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Managing a High Growth Business: Its the Culture, Stupid!

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Culture is one of the most under rated aspects influencing a business. Get it right and you can support and promote cooperation to support and reinforce success. Get it wrong and you can say goodbye to a successful business and say hello to a world of hurt.
British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed ...Image via Wikipedia

Every business has a culture whether you know it or not, whether you've consciously tried to set one or not.  Culture is set the day you start a business as it is a reflection of you, the owner, your values and personality. So if you like playing politics, politics will become an integral part of the business. Your values on customer service, sales, staff management in fact everything you do in business both internally and externally is influenced, if not dictated, by your culture.

Given its importance why is Culture not higher up on the list of things to explore when building a business.  In fact it’s often completely overlooked. The reason for this I would suggest is that the critical impact that Culture has on a business is not well understood. It is often completely overlooked by advisers and start ups alike, under the misguided impression that culture is something for a big business to consider. This totally ignores the fact that having the wrong culture is likely to prevent you from getting to a big company in the first place.    It is also because Culture is one of those soft touchy feely issues that tend to be avoided by by business people and is shunned by an ever more materialistic society. This is not intended to be a commentary on the importance of culture in our society but rather impact ignorance as an owner of what your business culture is and what it should be.

Taking this analysis further; incompatible cultures, or rather a lack of interest by the sellers of business and ignorance of the importance by buyers is the number 1 reason why so many acquisitions fail or at least fail to deliver a significant portion of the expected benefits. More worryingly ignorance of the importance of culture is the most common reason why the cost of integration is substantially more than projected.

How do you identify your culture?

This is a two step process. Firstly identify what you would like your culture to be then secondly ask your staff what they think it is. In order to make it easier for your staff to explain what they think is the company culture, distil the description of your culture into a few words. So for example; customer service, quality and price. Also recognise that the order of the words indicates their importance. For example a business with the keyword priority customer service, quality and price will have a significantly different culture to a business whose keyword priority is price, quality and customer service. Try it, you’ll find the answer illuminating.

If the culture is not what we want, how do we change it?

Changes in culture are notoriously difficult to implement because we are trying to change people’s attitudes. Change starts with you, as in all probability, you created the original by your actions or the appearance of your actions.

Step 1 clearly define what you want your culture to be in as much detail as possible, explain your rationale, then go on to describe how you will expect your management and staff to act. Then you follow a long process of reinforcing the culture across the business, but how you do this is the subject of a future article.
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Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for High Growth Business Business Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help Business Owners improve the profit performance of their business.  

Thursday 6 October 2011

Cash is King -Yes, But Not at Any Price

I was reminded the other day how people can get so focused on a mantra that they lose sight of context. Yes in a tough market Cash is King but not to the detriment of everything else.

Cash Is King
Let me explain, I was having a discussion with an internet business owner who was moaning about poor sales, and the fact that to get cash in he needed to reduce his margin. The more we talked the more I began to question the strategy of reducing price to get the cash in. His response always started with "well you know in these times Cash is King... 

Eventually I got him to show me an example of how this worked for him. Once he had finished I asked him a question "Ok, so if you are giving away margin, are you making any profit at the reduced level?" 

"Well that doesn't matter what is important is to get some cash in to pay suppliers and re order product." came the response.

"But surely if you are losing money on each sale getting the cash in, you are making the situation worse, not better. " 

"At the moment getting cash in is whats important"

"How regularly are you doing this? Is this just to clear dead stock for example?"

"Quite frequently because when we put our products out at full price we are losing sales to cheaper providers so we use this to strategy to get the cash in"

At this point I was getting a little concerned, "But surely you must know if you are making a profit otherwise you will only be building up bigger and bigger losses, after all if you are only losing £1 per item if you sell 1000 of them you've lost £1000!"

"Yes but if you don't get the cash in when you need it you can't pay suppliers and they put you on stop"

We were in danger of getting into a circular argument, so I suggested that if he wanted we could look in detail at his pricing to see if he was making the situation worse or better. What we discovered subsequently was that he was indeed making a loss on his reduced items but more worryingly also on some of his regular priced items, and that his dedication to blindly follow the Cash is King mantra was killing his business.  

So the moral of this story is yes "Cash is King" but getting cash in is only worth pursuing if its in the interests of your business. I do appreciate that there are times when you may make a loss sometimes; for example if you are off loading poor moving stock, but generating cash flow by cutting your margin without understanding the consequences of your actions is a dangerous strategy.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for High Growth Business Business Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help Business Owners improve the profit performance of their business.