How To Sabotage Your Organization

60050776 - aggressive businessman in suit throwing burning molotov cocktail

Robert Heinlein wrote “Every generation thinks that it invented sex.”  But, truth be told, there’s nothing new under the sun … at least with regard to human behavior.  In case you think that everything that frustrates you about your organization’s lack of effectiveness is unique to it, take a look at this article over at Business Insider: The 16 best ways to sabotage your organization’s productivity, from a CIA manual published in 1944.  Here’s a couple of the CIA’s tricks:

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.


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The Real Reason For The Demise of Print Media

Along with others, I have been watching the continual demise of the American newspaper. Over time, advertisers have put QR codes and other links into print media to try to measure results. Not perfect, but helpful. Then the issue becomes pay per action rather than pay per insertion. In today’s digital world, advertisers are used to pay per click and are not as big on pay per impression. The fact that 80% of the 46994613 - closeup of pile of newspapersclicks may be worthless doesn’t bother them so much because it is measurable and they can tell their boss that it is a pay for activity or output, which is better.

How do newspapers compete with that mindset? Classic thinking is that they can’t. Actually they could they just chose not to. Why could they not have offered ads with performance guarantees? That would have been even better than pay-per-click. When I have asked publishers over the years why they did not or do not make that offer, their response has universally been because they have no control over the performance, quality or value of the offer made by their advertiser.

Understood, accepted and agreed. So they have fewer advertisers and the papers shrink. Readership shrinks further as their business model fails. Why go down with the ship. Build a different ship.

I am sorry to see the demise of print media. I happy to like it better than reading on a screen and maybe I am part of a shrinking group, but there are still millions of us. And that does not preclude re-purposing

the printed content for online use. The key is to get paid for creating and printing the content. Old model thinking is on a glide path. Maybe a pay for performance model won’t work, but what’s the harm in trying?


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Again With The Power Of Focus

toiletpaper“There is no business that cannot improve its performance by narrowing its focus.” Thus stated David Palmer an original member of our team many years ago. And I keep finding examples to prove he was right. Here is another: New England Paper Tube.

Business Week highlighted them recently in a focus on manufacturing piece in the September 5-11 issue. The company was founded over 100 years ago. They made and make paper tubes. Think toilet paper tubes as an example. They generated about $12MM in revenue in the 1980s. However as the industries they served left the area, their revenue shrank. By the beginning of the “great recession” they made over 500 different products and couldn’t make payroll some weeks. Bankruptcy was imminent. The question was only whether it would be for liquidation or restructuring.

By narrowing the offering to about 140 different products (down from over 500), and selecting products where they could add value and make money, NEPT started turning a profit and succeeded in restructuring. A focus on convolute tube and eliminating most, if not all, spiral tube helped the company turn the corner.

As larger companies like HP restructure to narrow their focus, we are reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Palmer’s statement.

Where is your focus?


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No Action Talk Only

keeblelogoMy late friend George Nelson used to use that term (No Action Talk Only) as a descriptor for the organization with the same acronym as its name (NATO), and over the years we have applied it to many organizations and groups. The closing of the venerable camera store, Keeble & Shuchat in Palo Alto at the end of October of this year, after 51 years in business, is an unfortunate example of how many people in our society practice NATO.

There is an outcry in the US for more US manufactured goods. Walmart used to pride itself on carrying only US manufactured goods. Then their customers told them they wanted the low price regardless where made (assuming acceptable quality). Walmart now outsources much (most) of the products they sell. While they are responding to the current outcry for more US made goods, I suspect they are going slowly as they recognize NATO when they see it.

New Balance has been a US shoe manufacturer for over 100 years and still makes some of their products in the US. However in 1994 it was 70% now it’s 25%. They are hoping to boost it by requiring the Department of Defense to buy shoes for new recruits from a US manufacturer.

We have a client, Lavelle Industries, in WI that makes the Korky line of toilet repair products in the US. Their major competitor, Fluidmaster, makes their products in Mexico. The products sell for virtually identical prices. Do the major retailers care that one is US made? Not as far as I can tell. Do consumers? Can’t see that they do. NATO.

Back to Keeble & Shuchat. A primary reason for their closing is so much business is being lost to internet sales. Many people say shop local, but then NATO. Worse Keeble & Shuchat has noticed no real decline in prospective customers in their stores, just not ones who buy. They will come to the store to learn, then buy online. They will come to the store for help using or fixing their camera equipment, but still buy online. As Terry Shuchat notes, “We’ve become a big showroom for online stores.” I have noted back in 2013 that showrooming was becoming a major problem for retailers.

Shuchat added: “We always hear how people want to support local retail, but in reality they’re not showing that in their spending. ” NATO

Sad commentary.



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Now This Is A Great Ad

pxgThis is a great ad for at least the following reasons:

  1. Focused headline. They are obsessed, so if as a golfer you are too, you can relate.
  2. Uniqueness claim: “Nobody makes golf clubs the way we do. Period.” With the obvious assumption, theirs are better.
  3. Copy that is exactly what most golfers want.
  4. No apology for the price by using a clever “warning label.”

Right to the point, eye-catching and no-nonsense. If they are for you, you will have to try them out.


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The Customer Is NOT Always Right

rightcustomerwrongcustomerThere is a relatively old expression that says “the customer is always right.” Everyone knows that’s not true, but the idea is to treat them as if they are right. I have suggested that the customer is usually wrong, but if you make it about right and wrong, you’re going to lose. The customer is always the customer, until one of you decides they aren’t anymore.

Much has been written in the last few years about “firing customers.” The idea being that spending too much time and resource with the wrong customers, will keep your company from having the time and resources to spend on the right customers. The key in many cases is to define “right customer” and “wrong customer.”

Many experts suggest you use profitability as the metric for right and wrong. That is, keep the profitable ones, and jettison the unprofitable ones; and maybe even the marginally profitable ones. The problem with that idea is most companies don’t have a clue which are their most profitable customers, or the metrics to really know.

Clearly a high margin customer that does a lot of business with you and is easy to serve is a profitable customer. Ditto, a low margin customer who does little business and requires a lot of “service” is likely an unprofitable customer. However, those two extremes are likely a tiny part of your customer-base. So how do you evaluate those in the large middle?

That is beyond the scope of a blog post, but it seem obvious (at least to me) that you need to create at least some simple metrics to sort your customers by value to you. Additionally, as my friend Ted Steinberg has taught for years, it’s not just how much business a customer does with you, but how much could they do with you? What is the real potential value of a customer, and how does that fit the “right” or “wrong” matrix? Over the years I have learned that most companies have no idea who their best potential customers are. At best they can rank their customers by current revenue and maybe also profit.

Nordstrom was famous for inviting the wrong customers to shop elsewhere, thus allowing their people the time to take great care of the right customers. Stanley Marcus tells the story of taking back a gold (yes really gold) dress that a customer had ruined because his son had not made sure the customer knew how to care for the dress. He noted that woman spent tens of thousands of dollars in his store after that.

There is no question that treating all customers the same is a mistake. The “trick” is to have a way to know who the right customer is; how to attract more of them; and when to cut loose of the “wrong’ ones.

How are you doing with this?


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Brick and Mortar Suicide Finds New Ways to Continue

macyslogoAlmost every day we hear about more closures of brick and mortar stores. Abercrombie is closing a bunch of stores, and Macy’s announced the closing of hundreds of stores. While we aren’t Abercrombie’s target customer, my wife had been (the operative word being the past tense “had”) a Macy’s customer until recently.

My wife was a loyal Macy’s shopper until a few years ago when she noticed a distinct change in their stores and their approach. I wrote about one of her store experiences a couple of years ago. She is also tired of going into stores that look like a tornado hit them and merchandise is all over the place, and no help can be found. While she still shopped Macy’s, it was no longer her “go to” store.

Now it is going to be her never go to store. Why?

To show how ineptitude is contagious and permeates an entire organization over time, the other morning my wife got a call from Macy’s credit to ding her for not having paid her bill for two months. She stated that she had not gotten a bill from them in over 6 months, because she didn’t shop Macy’s much anymore. The “collector” told her that she had purchased close to $3,000 in merchandise online. Stunned, my wife explained that was not possible. The “collector” cited what she had bought (my wife would never buy that kind of stuff at those prices) and asked her if she was still living in Miami. (We have never lived in Miami.) Not convinced this was a legitimate call, she told them to send her information to prove she had bought this stuff. (At no time did they suggest they cancel her card.)

A few calls later, it is clear that her card # was used fraudulently. They did decide to cancel her card and send her a new one, which is not going to be used. However, the hassle of dealing with the sales prevention department, that clearly does not have even rudimentary fraud prevention software (since all the purchases made over the two days did not fit anything my wife had ever bought), has caused her to decide Macy’s is not worth the hassle. She is done.

Of course, Macy’s management would blame this reduction in sales on “outside forces,” including changes in how people shop. Sure, they didn’t bill her for two months and don’t know why. They dun her for non-payment and she has to show them how fraud was committed by someone in Miami using her card. She has to complete a detailed fraud report to meet their needs. As she says, “who needs them.”

Meanwhile I got a defective item from I asked to return it, they sent me a new one, sent UPS to pick up the old one. No hassle.

Brick and mortar suicide continues. (And to be clear this is suicide.)


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