Posts Taged strategic-planning

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 22 :: Strategic Planning :: Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are things that multi-billion-dollar companies do, right? Certainly, companies of that size do merge with and acquire other companies, but these strategies can be employed by companies of almost any size.

In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we want to dig into the mechanics of surveying the competitive landscape, identifying synergies that might exist between us and our competitors and crafting a plan to bring two businesses together.

Let’s do a quick definition of terms. In a merger, two equals come together and craft a new business entity that most likely features leadership from both businesses, products from both businesses and a consolidated customer base. In an acquisition, one business purchases the assets, products, and customer base of another business. It’s possible that the leadership of the acquired business will be no longer be present. Its brand might be swallowed completely by the acquiring business.

Before we jump into this week’s exercise, let’s lay out the case for a merger or acquisition –

  • Consolidated back office functions reduce cost – two HR departments become one, two finance departments become one – you get the idea.
  • Distinctive competencies of each entity are leveraged across the new entity.
  • The new entity has a broader product offering.
  • Market share for the new entity automatically increases.
  • It reduces rivalry in the industry.
  • It increases bargaining power with vendors and customers.

 

Here are a few observations before we start on the exercise –

  • Companies who have grown rapidly through mergers and acquisitions all say the same thing – nothing is more important than culture fit. If the cultures of the merging companies clash, the synergy never happens and value dissipates (sometimes costing companies incredible amounts of money to separate the entities). Occasionally, the companies don’t survive.
  • Merging companies operationally is hard. There are systems and processes that must be combined. Which accounting system will the new entity use? How will we reconfigure the sales pipeline? And much, much more.
  • Most likely, some people will lose their job. That’s part of the improved value proposition. You need to create a separation process that, as much as possible, allows departing people to keep their dignity, positions them for future success, and gives them adequate financial resources for a transition. You also need a plan for the people who are staying – who are grieving the loss of their coworkers.
  • You might be looking at your bank account and thinking, “I can’t acquire a box of pencils, let alone another company.” The current climate has created incredible uncertainty. There might be companies you could acquire for just an assumption of debt or for a stream of future payments instead of a lump sum upfront.
  • Acquire or merge with positive cash flow. A company with negative cash flow might seem like an easy acquisition target, but unless the reason for negative cash flow is readily apparent and easily fixable, you want to acquire or merge with a company that is “paying its own way.”
  • If you’re acquiring a company just for their book of business, be cautious. Unless the company has a locked-in customer base (e.g. the only factory-authorized service center for XYZ brand widgets in six states), customers could defect to competitors and significantly diminish the value of the acquisition.
  • I understand that every bullet point above this seems fraught with peril. These are two hard strategies and they require a lot of soul-searching and empirical analysis before they are utilized. But, when executed correctly, they can create incredible value and opportunity for the owners and companies who utilize them. Companies can quickly experience every one of the benefits spelled out earlier in the post.

 

Here’s this week’s 30-minute exercise –

  • List 3-5 merger or acquisition targets. Remember, you’re looking for culture fit, complimentary product offerings and organizational synergy. When thinking about complimentary products, consider adjacent industries. For example, an HVAC company might find a good merger/acquisition target with a plumber.

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  • Write a few notes after each one regarding why you think they make a good merger or acquisition target. Be specific – cite products, services, people, similar marketing communication.
  • Sleep on it for a night or two. Revisit the list and the notes and see if they still make sense.
  • If it still makes sense in a day or two, introduce the idea to a couple of trusted lieutenants in your organization and get their take on it. Discuss all of the challenges listed above and any additional ones that you identify.

 

If after this internal deliberation, you still think it’s a promising idea –

  • Initiate a conversation with the principal of the target company. Suggest lunch or coffee. This is your first opportunity to gauge the culture of the organization, because culture flows down from the top.
  • If the conversation is positive, introduce the merger/acquisition topic. If there is interest from both sides, sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement. This will ensure that any financials or trade secrets disclosed during the following discussions will remain private.
  • Arrange a meeting with a small group from both entities. Invite operations people, finance people and tech people. In this meeting you’re still checking for culture fit and you’re starting to dig into overarching operational questions. It might be a good idea to engage a third-party to manage this meeting. Their job is to make sure everyone’s concerns are aired and addressed.
  • Each entity needs to have a debrief after this meeting to discuss culture, markets, operations, finance, and tech.
  • If everyone involved is still feeling positive, it’s time to involve legal counsel, accountants and possibly consultants with experience in merging operations (if you haven’t involved them up until now).

 

This One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge was a thought-starter for one of the more ground-shifting topics in the series. If you decide to undertake one of these strategies, think long and hard, and get help.

Would you be disappointed if 2020 looked exactly like 2019?

I’ve been asking myself that question. And now is the right time to ask it. The time between now and mid-December has been called the “100 day sprint” or “the most important 100 days of the year”. Why? Because everyone is back in the office after summer, back in the routine and hunkered down for a busy three and a half months. For some companies, it’s the run-up to a busy holiday season. For others, it’s time to prepare 2020 strategic plans and operating budgets.

In a very real way, the foundation for your organization’s 2020 is going to be laid in the next 100 days. Do it well and 2020 could be your best year yet. Do it poorly or don’t do it at all and 2020 might be just a carbon copy of 2019.

So, what should you be looking at right now? I have a longer list, but if you can’t swing a full-blown strategic planning exercise (which, in my opinion, you should commit to), I’d turn my attention to these four items first –

  • Ask hard talent questions – Do you have the right people in the organization who can take you where you want to go in the next 2-3 years? If not, can you develop existing staff or do you need additional talent? Do you have chronic personnel problems you’ve been reluctant to deal with – people who are poisoning the culture or who are consistently under-performing? If so, what are you going to do about it? Are there one, two or three people, who, if they left, would put your organization at risk? If so, what have you done to mitigate that risk?
  • Gauge organizational health – Is the company culture healthy? For example, is there clear and complete communication up and down the org chart? Is there transparency so that people have the information they need to make good decisions? Are you and are the other leaders in the organization setting a good example in your approach to work and in your interactions with every stakeholder group?
  • Reexamine value creation activities – Do you know the key drivers of the value surplus for your customers? When was the last time you examined your entire value creation chain looking for opportunities to improve vendor performance, inventory management, cross-department collaboration, processes, quality and logistics?
  • Measure what matters – When was the last time you revisited the metrics on your balanced scorecard? Are they really indicative of organizational health? Are your systems providing data quickly enough and to the right people so your field decision-making is data-driven and your longer-term decision-making is data-supported?

Inertia is strong. The pull of ordinary daily days will drag you right into the holiday season before you’ve taken any time to plan for 2020.

I’ve rewritten this last paragraph several times. Originally it said that you’re busy and looking at just these four things is better than doing nothing at all – that’s true. But, I want to encourage you to do the hard thing and take a much deeper dive into your organization. Don’t make 2020 slightly better than 2019. Make it much better by critically and accurately evaluating the current state of your organization, thoughtfully envisioning what you want 2020 to look like and deliberately crafting a plan to get you from the former to the latter.

I Want to do for Strategy what Chip and Joanna Gaines did for Shiplap

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that six years ago, you had no idea what shiplap was. Neither did I. But thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines and their hit HGTV show FixerUpper, shiplap is now part of the national consciousness. Everyone wants at least an accent wall’s worth of six-inch, horizontal wood goodness in their home.

Even though shiplap has been around for decades, it took someone to champion it – to sing its praises to a new generation of homeowners. I want to do for strategy what Chip and Joanna Gaines did for shiplap.

I love strategy –

Truthful evaluation, thoughtful options and deliberate actions to move an organization from the current state to the desired state.

Leaders in every organization feel the tension of the gap between where they are and where they want to be. That tension is supposed to be there. It’s one of the things that gets us to the office, shop, kitchen or factory every morning. But tragically, many leaders feel the pressure to close the gap but lack the tools to make it happen. Leaders randomly marshal the resources of traditional functional areas like marketing, production, finance and HR to transform the organization and close the gap, but in the absence of an overarching discipline that coordinates the objectives and work of these functional areas, the transformation is uneven and short-lived and the organization reverts back to business as usual. Businesses of 6, 8 or 10 people need the same overarching discipline, just like businesses of 6, 8 or 10 thousand.

That’s why I love strategy. It’s the neglected discipline – the one that, when employed, spurs conversation, creates collaboration and generates a singular focus for the organization. It’s the discipline that deliberately and methodically moves the organization to where it wants to be and, in the process, engages and builds up everyone involved.

Just like every homeowner who says, “I’ve got to have some shiplap in my house”, if I can get a business owner or manager, no matter the size of their enterprise, to say, “I have to incorporate strategic planning into my organization”, I’ve done my job. And if I have the privilege of helping them in that process, that’s a bonus.

Can Long-Term Strategic Initiatives and Day-to-Day Activities Co-Exist?

When a new initiative is rolled out in an organization, it’s often with a great deal of hype and enthusiasm. Everyone buys in and adoption is good, but then work life starts to happen. And that’s the problem with work life – there’s so much of it. The initial enthusiasm for the new initiative gets swallowed up with mundane everyday activities. Pile on top of that urgent matters that require immediate attention. Sometimes the urgent matters are problems – remedying a customer issue, dealing with an under-performing vendor or working with a wayward employee – but they could just as easily be a new opportunity that must be capitalized on now. These all conspire to drain needed resources from the new initiative. Many strategic plans, new sales campaigns and quality programs have died at the hands of work life.

What if there was a framework that you could employ during work life that let you navigate mundane activity, address urgent matters AND push everyone involved forward towards the overarching initiative?

In the end, the success of every new initiative is about execution. Execution that pushes the initiative effectively through the organization and into the work-a-day world of every executive, manager, supervisor and front-line employee. The Everyday Framework is a series of steps that reframes the mundane and the urgent and aligns them with the overarching initiative (if possible) and strengthens the organization. The exciting thing about the framework is that it’s easy to use for managers and supervisors and it’s easily “caught” so that everyone in the organization can apply it.

Reframe the Task – Stephen Covey reminded us to “Begin with the end in mind”. When navigating the mundane, fixing the urgent problem or capitalizing on the immediate opportunity, work to identify and verbalize how that task pushes the organization towards the overarching initiative (strategic plan, new sales campaign, etc). To illustrate, let’s say one of our new long-term strategic objectives is to decrease product delivery time from four days to two days for 90% of all orders. Today’s issue has to do with billing for an order from a brand-new customer. The customer wants to set up an account and be billed since they plan on doing more business with us in the future. However, upon submission of their billing information, we find some problems with their credit information and even find some unfavorable credit reporting in an industry reference publication. We could work with the employee who reported the problem to get this new customer set up and billed (and we should), but it would be best to reframe this problem and examine it in the light of our strategic initiative. In order to get this new customer his or her order in two days (in fulfillment of our long-term initiative), do we need to make changes to our order process to identify problems like this earlier? Do we need to look for a way to programmatically check credit reporting when the order is submitted online? Do we need to change the sales process so prospective clients with credit problems are excluded from the sales pipeline? Reframing problems – and slightly expanding their scope if necessary – attaches larger meaning to the problem and makes solving the problem tactical instead of operational, moving the organization closer to reaching its long-term initiatives.

Say No – Tied closely to the previous step is this one. If addressing today’s “new, great opportunity that must be acted on now” doesn’t push the organization closer to meeting its long-term initiatives, maybe you should just say no. Sometimes it’s difficult if the shiny new thing comes from someone at the top of the organization, but that’s the beauty of the framework. If everyone uses it, then every team member knows that every activity – mundane task, urgent problem or emerging opportunity – is subject to the same scrutiny. And if it doesn’t push the organization towards reaching the long-term initiative, the answer has to be “no”, at least for right now.

Put Employees First – This isn’t the right time for the “are employees the most important stakeholders?” discussion, but there’s no doubt they are an essential part of the organization. When urgent problems surface, they are, most of the time, screaming to be solved right now. Our natural reaction is to solve them ourselves or get them quickly to the person who can solve them best and fastest. What about using urgent problems as a training opportunity. Take an employee who has the requisite knowledge to solve the problem but has never had the opportunity and walk them through it as you solve it. Or pair them with the staff expert in solving the problem and let them walk through it together. It might take slightly longer, but afterwards you’ll have a deeper bench. If today’s urgent matter is an emerging opportunity, show the employee how you step through an evaluation to make the determination whether to pursue it further. This helps the employee to see how you evaluate opportunities in the light of the organization’s mission, vision, values and current long-term initiatives. If you give employees a raise every year, but never invest in their growth via training, your ROI on that employee diminishes – i.e. more money for an employee with the same skills.

Go from the Outside In – In the press to make to make problems go away or make the internal processes behind our mundane tasks easier for us, we occasionally make decisions that generate unintended consequences. Many times, the recipient of those consequences is not us, but our customers. By making life easier for us, we make it harder for them. Amazon famously sits an empty chair in every meeting. That chair represents the customer. It’s a physical reminder to make decisions that get the customer better products and services, make transactions more frictionless and deliver more value for their money. When problems surface, start with the customer perspective and work inward, navigating through the company’s internal processes. Solve the problem so the customer wins.

Start Small – Researching a new problem or sometimes navigating the most routine task occasionally exposes a much larger problem – one that is going to be expensive and time-consuming to solve. Since many times the problem is urgent, we’re tempted to throw resources (money, talent) at it so we can get back to business as usual. In the heat of the urgent moment is not the time to authorize a large expenditure. Jim Collins, in Great by Choice, taught us to “fire bullets, then cannonballs” – that is start small, spend the least amount of resources possible on a potential solution or opportunity, work out the kinks, prove our market or methodology then, after careful evaluation of the “bullets”, invest more heavily in a permanent solution (cannonballs). Don’t be pressured into long-term fiscal irresponsibility to solve a problem that’s causing temporary discomfort.

Be Accountable – The framework ceases to function if this piece isn’t in place. Every person at every level of the organization must exercise ownership for the success of the overarching initiative, the urgent problems that surface and the routine tasks of everyday work. Those who lead the organization must set the example, prioritizing their work so that urgent matters never overshadow important ones. Leaders must model the steps –

  • Reframe Daily Tasks in the light of long-term initiatives (a strategic plan, a new sales campaign, a new quality program, etc)
  • Say No to the daily tasks that don’t push the organization towards fulfillment of the long-term initiatives
  • Put Employees First by using immediate tasks as training opportunities, teaching new skills and how the immediate task aligns with long-term initiatives
  • Go from the Outside In by keeping daily problem solving customer-centric
  • Start Small by spending the least amount of resources on immediate problems and routine tasks thereby preserving resources to achieve long-term initiatives

 

Being accountable means owning a task until it is completed. It means taking responsibility for research, communication, execution, documentation and follow-up until every “t” is crossed and “i” is dotted. It means giving up the right to blame another employee, department, vendor or customer or counting on them to fix it. It means wringing all the learning out of problem or opportunity, so you can put the knowledge in your bag of tricks for the next time.

The Everyday Framework embraces Jim Collins’ “genius of the AND” operationally. Complete mundane daily tasks AND stay focused on long-term initiatives. Solve immediate problems AND develop employees. Evaluate emerging opportunities AND preserve resources to execute long-term initiatives.

Maybe I should have led with this, but here’s why the Everyday Framework is so important. Organizational growth, both financially and operationally, must be deliberate. Leaders often craft plans to make that growth happen. But, more times than not, those plans remain unexecuted because they’re simply overshadowed by the press of daily activities. Leaders can’t “will” their teams into execution, because team members lack the tools to balance or prioritize the conflicting demands of long-term initiatives and immediate tasks. The Everyday Framework is that tool.

Is a Strategic Plan Really Necessary?

You’re making money, customers are buying your products or services and your employees seem happy? Do you really need a strategic plan?  Isn’t strategic planning for big companies with lots of money and lots of employees?  Or maybe for companies that are struggling?  If things are going great, why mess with it?

Read the ten statements below, answer TRUE or FALSE, and we’ll chat at the end.

 

I know exactly what I want the business to look like 1 year, 3 years and 5 years from now.

  • I don’t mean you want to be making more money, I mean –
    • you have a clear picture of new product and service offerings
    • you’ve identified new markets or new target clients for growth
    • you have a plan for hiring and/or developing employees that can get you where you want to go
    • you’re already putting together the production, service and technical infrastructure to support the new products and market
    • you know how you’re going to finance your plans

 

When my leadership team meets, we talk regularly about long term plans.

  • Current operational problems are extraordinarily demanding and will consume all your time.  It’s good and right to talk about and solve them, but to borrow from Jim Collins, this is a perfect time for the “genius of the and”.  To remain viable in the long-term, we must effectively manage the organization today AND successfully position it for tomorrow.

 

The employees in my organization share my passion for the business.

  • You’re the boss, no one will care more than you – right?  You might be surprised.  Social scientists assure us that engaged, empowered employees will go far beyond just punching the clock.  Clear, concise communication and commitment to an overarching purpose are the starting place.

 

I know where we are vulnerable to competition.

  • A correct assessment of the competitive environment is much more than examining the companies that do the exact same thing you do for the exact same set of customers.  It also involves examining companies that compete for the same disposable dollars.  It involves surveying replacements for your good or service.

 

My employees know what success looks like in our business.

  • This might seem apparent, but unless you’ve assembled an easy-to-understand scorecard with hard and soft metrics, employees with very narrow job responsibilities might not know if the enterprise at large is succeeding or failing.

 

If I was gone tomorrow, the business would continue to function.

  • At the risk of sounding harsh, if the organization can’t run without you, you’ve built a cult, not a business.  Skilled execution of a strategic plan will force you systematize the business, building it around principle instead of personality.

 

I have a steady stream of new clients coming into the business and they are the clients I want.

  • New revenue streams, both from new products and from new customers are the lifeblood of any organization.  But as organizations mature and are better able to identify and serve the customers to whom they deliver the greatest value surplus, they can narrow their focus.  This focus allows them to build relationships with customers who are willing to not only grow the relationship, but also act as an advocate for the brand.

 

I have a process for identifying changes in the organization that would allow us to deliver our product better, faster or cheaper.

  • The inward-looking part of a strategic planning exercise focuses on the component parts of the value creation process.  How does the organization transform inputs into desirable outputs deriving the greatest amount of utility from the resources available?  The strategic planning process is about challenging the status quo, asking probing questions about procurement, people, processes, money and more.

 

I have a reliable feedback mechanism for customer sentiment.

  • Sam Walton observed that customers have the ability to fire everyone in the company from the CEO down.  That being the case, it’s critical to understand their perception of your products, people and processes.  A reliable feedback loop is the lifeline to these important stakeholders.

 

I have a plan of action to break and rebuild my business model to keep it fresh and safe from new, innovative entrants.

  • If you’re making money and satisfying an important customer demand, there are competitors who would love to take those customers and their money away from you.  If they can satisfy those demands better or more economically, your business is in jeopardy.  With an existing business relationship, you have an enormous advantage.  However, an unwillingness to innovate or even re-invent your business, product or service can be a shortcut to irrelevance.

 

If you answered FALSE to any of these, I believe you should very seriously contemplate a strategic planning exercise. It’s incredibly easy to cling to the status quo and not deliberately create and execute a plan to build a healthier organization going forward.

Convinced and ready to go or still have some questions?  Either way is fine.  Click here to schedule a free, no-obligation thirty-minute conversation with me.  I look forward to learning about you and your business.