Are you in the 90% or the 10%? 90% of the organisations I’ve worked with were focused on their organisation and their products and services. In their calls, meetings and presentations they led with themselves and what they do. This is the wrong way round. Your prospects and customers are not interested in you, or what they do. They are interested in solving their problems and capitalising on their opportunities. What’s in for them? That’s your guiding star. When you start with yourself, it’s too hard for them to see the return on this investment of their time.

10% of organisations are market-led. Everything they do stems from the markets they’re serving and the target customers they’re trying to sell to. They earn the right to tell customers about themselves once they have demonstrated their knowledge of the market and their experience making similar organisations more successful. They lead with the market and the customer, and follow up with why they make organisations better. In their calls, meetings and presentations they start with their customers, and finish with themselves and how they can make the difference.

Customers are organisations filled with people like you and me. How you define and segment your market, your organisation’s business model and its routes to market are governed by the personas or specific people you’re targeting. They drive everything you do and you must maintain this mind-set – and stay in the 10% – to stay close to why your organisation exists.

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Rings are a great way to communicate. Married, engaged to be married, not married – there’s a world of jewellery-inspired signalling on the finger next to your left pinkie finger, or your right finger, depending on where you’re from. It’s not always been that particular ring finger either.

We use jewellery to communicate our partnering availability and non-availability to others. I’ve seen women with rings on every finger of their hand except their wedding finger, and men who are married but don’t wear any kind of band. I couldn’t wait to get my wedding band on.

Then there’s the famous Irish Claddagh Ring. It’s supposed to originate in the oldest part of Galway, the Claddagh maritime area, in the west of Ireland. The three symbols making up the ring signify different things; the heart for love, the crown for loyalty and the hands for friendship. It’s often used as a wedding ring for men and women.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is how you wear the ring, by which I mean in which direction. If you wear it with the heart pointing into you, and the crown facing away, it means you’re spoken for. If you wear it what I would call ‘upside down’, it means you’re not.

As soon as I met Her Ladyship and found out about the Claddagh ring and its significance, I went out and bought one for my right pinky finger, putting it on with the heart pointing inwards. It looked like a signet ring and gave me ideas above my station.

Incidentally, and with full disclosure that I have been helping them with their digital marketing, JVD Claddagh Rings have their own take on the traditional Claddagh ring, incorporating a Celtic knot motif within the heart and a gentler treatment of the crown, as pictured. Lovely for wedding rings and heritage pieces, don’t you know. Here’s the link to the shop.

No, not the infantile word for urination, the abbreviation when you’re signing something on someone else’s behalf.

They say you learn something new every day. That was certainly true for me this morning. I always assumed that ‘pp’ stood for ‘pro per’, or on ‘behalf of, through’ as it is in Latin. It also used to irk me that you’d see the pp next to the person’s signature, rather than on the line of the person they were signing on behalf of. ‘pp John Smith…Jane Smith, Director of Policy’ wasn’t right, or so I reasoned, should be ‘John Smith….pp Jane Smith, Director of Policy.’

Well, blow me down. I looked it up this morning. It stands for per procurationem, meaning through the agency (of), or by delegation if you like. Furthermore, it turns out it can be shortened to per pro, not pro per, so doubly wrong. If that’s not enough, the pp belongs on the line of the delegated person too. Sheesh!

I took small comfort from the fact that the pp can also appear on the bottom line, but not much comfort.

Well, stap me vitals, as they used to say. That was the second thing I learned this morning, as I wrote this post. I always thought the phrase was ‘stack me/my vitals’…apparently I’m not alone in feeling confused (read the comments).

The TLA – the three letter acronym which of course is itself a TLA – is shorthand, jargon that we can use in good ways and bad ways. It saves us time and effort, but is also something to hide behind and can exclude others.

I think how we use the term TLA varies between the spoken and written word. If the first letter of the TLA starts with a vowel sound, and is a consonant like the F of FAQ, we’re more likely to say ‘an FAQ’ when we’re talking. It’s easier and sounds better.

If we use a TLA in the written word, like in a report, then we’re likely not to use ‘an’ before a vowel-sounding TLA, as in ‘If you have a FAQ, please consult the FAQ section.’ Or are we?

This is where it gets ambiguous, when you’re in the realm of email, which is kind of written but kind of spoken too, or at least is the chattier form of the written word.

Essentially you as the writer are signalling to the reader whether you want them to read it as a TLA in their head or read it as the expanded phrase the TLA refers to. For example, the other day I received an emailed that closed with ‘… a MNC’, where MNC is a multinational company. For me the reader wants me to think ‘a multinational company’. If he had written an MNC, I think he would want me to think MNC, which also means multinational company.

Geddit? Too deep? Neither relevant nor interesting? To answer the title of the post, if you want your vowel-sounding TLA to be read as a TLA, use the ‘an’, otherwise don’t.

Then there’s the vowel-sounding TLA which begins with an actual vowel, like an OTC drug, which is a whole lot easier!

In this last post in the series on scaling a business, we look at the checklist of ’10 Rockefeller habits’. Once more I borrow from the Growth Institute in this fascinating piece on how the 10 habits of the fabled businessman are the only framework you need to scale your business.

Working from the principle that success comes from the combination of goals and discipline, and you must have both, rather like strategy and execution, the article provides a detailed description of the 10-item Rockefeller habits checklist, which I summarise here:

  1. The executive team is healthy and aligned
  2. Everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward
  3. Communication rhythm is established and information moves through the organisation quickly
  4. Every facet of the organisation has a person assigned with accountability for ensuring goals are met
  5. Ongoing employee input is collected to identify obstacles and opportunities
  6. Reporting and analysis of customer feedback data is as frequent and accurate as financial data
  7. Core values and purpose are “alive” in the organisation
  8. Employees can articulate the key components of the company’s strategy accurately
  9. All employees can answer quantitatively whether they had a good day or week
  10. The company’s plans and performance are visible to everyone

These habits only truly come alive when you read the narrative and case studies that amplify them, so refer to here for the valuable detail. You’ll get the how to implement and who should implement that will send you on your way to scaling a business successfully.

 

This post continues the series on scaling a business, this time defining the exponential organisation. An exponential organisation is a company that scales rather than grows. In other words it grows at an exponential rate – d’oh!

Jacob Morgan covers how to create an exponential organisation and why you would want to in this excellent piece. He leans heavily on the work of the innovator Samil Ismail, one of those lucky souls who can find his first name in his last name…

Ismail’s research into exponential organisations leads him to identify ten commonalities in companies successfully hitting the stratosphere.  Five factors are external, and five are internal.

The five external factors equal the word SCALE:

  • S, staff on demand
  • C, community and crowd
  • A, algorithms
  • L, leased assets
  • E, engagement

The five internal factors spell the word IDEAS:

  • I, interfaces
  • D, dashboard
  • E, experimentation
  • A, autonomy
  • S, social

To find out more about each factor, and what combination of them would suit your ambitions, have a deeper look at the article.

 

In this second in the series of posts exploring scaling the business, let’s look the differences between growing the business versus scaling the business. What better source of authoritative information than this piece from the Growth Institute.

There are some fantastic insights in this piece. Here are just three of them:

  • Companies that scale successfully don’t set out to grow their business, they build it for scale from the outset
  • A scaling company grows at twice the industry average but its expenses are roughly the same
  • When I was at business school, a company’s growth was a series of steps, where you go through a plateau period before you slingshot up the next level. Nowadays the scaling curve is a series of ‘valleys of death’ through which each company must pass in order to dominate its industry

The Growth Institute identifies four scaling stages:

The percentages of companies that make it through each of these stages are horrifically small, so if you’ve got scale-up ambitions it’s important to go in eyes wide open, and also read the Growth Institute piece, and the ‘how to navigate’ guide, in more detail.

Recently I wrote a short post about scale-ups and scaling a business. Now I’m going to start a short series that continues the theme of scaling.

If the trend watchers are to be believed, the start-up and dot com has had its day. Maybe that term is a little out of date these days, since the emerging start-ups of today all seem to be dot ai anyway. Apparently it’s all about becoming a larger sustained company now, while also avoiding being copied, outdone or annihilated by the likes of GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.

But if you want to catch the wave and forge something that lasts, what technology bandwagon should you be hitching a ride on? This piece from PWC explores in detail what they see as the eight essential emerging technologies.

The eight technologies are:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality
  • Blockchains
  • Drones
  • Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Virtual reality
  • 3-D printing

The thing that makes this tricky for start-ups is that you need boat loads of cash to dominate them. They’re not a niche that you can easily protect.

The PWC article groups these eight technologies into five converging themes:

  • Embodied AI
  • Intelligent automation
  • Automating trust
  • Conversational interfaces
  • Extended reality

For information on which technology or theme you can embrace to harness your scale-up company ambitions, see the article.

People often say that you have to look back in order to look forward. This can apply on both personal and work contexts, but obviously has certain limitations.

Past performance, as we’re reminded by companies looking to separate us from some of our money, is no guarantee of nor indeed guide to future performance. It can provide a pattern that might be useful in our future endeavours, but it can’t predict things. Economics, after all, is very handy for explaining what happened and how it happened, but not so great for saying what will happen. Look too at consumer polls over the last few years, and their record with the last US Presidential election and UK referendum; 2016 – the annus horribilis for the polling industry.

I’m not a huge fan of looking back, personally speaking, and in a personal context. I’m not one for nostalgia. I’m happy to reminisce about certain episodes in my past, but I don’t look back on it with fondness or envy. I think I’m afraid to. It’s done, it can’t be changed. What’s the point of going back to a time when we were younger. We’re the age we are right now and there’s nothing else we can influence except the present and future – unless we’re crazed historical revisionists of some crackpot empire.

The other day her Ladyship lent me a novel to read called ‘A Started for 10‘. I hadn’t heard of it, and I later discovered it was made into a film, which I have never seen. It was set in 1980’s university, and revolved around growing up and answering quiz questions. I thought I would love it.

I read it quite quickly, as it’s a well told story, but after a very enjoyable first third I only enjoyed it a little. It was really well observed, but too close to the bone, reminding me of a time when I knew so little about anything, far less than the modest amount of knowledge I have amassed some 30 years later. It was so accurate, and I didn’t want to revisit that level of detail from that time.

I understand that if we don’t look back, we can sometimes take a headlong accelerated journey into what’s around the next corner, and risk wishing away the present. But, looking back for any amount of time, and to any depth, well that’s not for me. I’m not sure it works in work either, as the set of circumstances and factors we deal with changes all the time.

Scaling a business is hard. Sometimes it must feel like you’re literally having to scale the business, in the sense of climbing up it, or order to scale it in the sense of growing it out, sustainably.

Scaling a business is perhaps the third stage in a company’s existence. At first you’re a solution to a problem, trying to get traction. In the second stage you’re a company with product market fit. People have a need for what you provide, and if you took what you provide away from them they would be in trouble.

Scaling the business is the third stage, where you’re building the business in a way that it can keep on building. Whereas you can see how a business moves from first to second stage, it’s less clear cut how the transition works from stages two to three. There might be a gaping chasm to cross, which calls to mind a very famous business book from two decades ago.

A scale up is defined as a company that grows by 20% or more for three consecutive years, starting from a base of at least ten employees. So, where a company can move quickly from stage one to stage two, getting to scale-up stage is a significantly longer investment, of time and money. Furthermore, by the time you’re getting close you may not have in place the right structure, the right foundation and the right people that got you from one to two, and almost to three.