In earlier articles we discussed issues confronting early stage and middle market companies in relation to markets and model. Let us now tackle our next “ No Man’s Land” issue of money. In Austin I am finding early stage companies I have been working with have tapped family and friends and other incubators for start-up money. However what might not have been contemplated was the early arrival of the need for additional funds. Ironically the very success the business has achieved, drives the need for additional finance. Not only does the growth of the net funding of (receivables and inventory net of payables) drive funding demand but the businesses generally need to step up capacity well in advance of revenue. That creates the need for additional finance and likely to require longer term finance and is shown in Figure 1.
In our last article we focused on the M model issues confronting a growing electronics company in Austin. Today we move to the M Market issues (see above) confronting a Footwear Company in Northern New York State. They are at the boundaries of middle market size and certainly not a start-up as they were 100 years old when faced with this issue, but they had become misaligned from their market place and generating considerable losses as a result.
How did they become misaligned from their market place?
As a senior operating executive I have been leading companies through transitions for 20 plus years. Sometimes it’s because they have hit a major bump in the business road. A sudden drop in sales resulted in a lack of cash for instance brought on a crisis. But for more companies it was the fact they couldn’t transition past the middle market obstacles that Doug Tatum in his best selling book so aptly described, as the place where growing companies fail.
Let’s explore the 5 steps to survive “No Man’s Land”.
Become insanely objective about the business and “Embrace the brutal facts", as author Jim Collins states. Great companies ask tough questions to get an accurate picture of the extent of the team misalignment and each issue’s degree of urgency.
Set a clear direction by focusing on a handful of priorities. More than 5 priorities usually results in no priority. The approach is straightforward. Teams can focus when they are responsible for a handful of actionable priorities and deadlines.
Align the team through routine communication. My partners at Newport have observed that over 98% of teams are out of sync on “No Man’s Land” issues. On the other hand, companies experience at least a 20% increase in performance when teams are aligned and focused on the right priorities. Aligned teams can stay in sync with a routine review of priorities and key performance indicators.
Keep score to hold each other accountable. Team accountability is attainable. A simple dashboard that includes priorities, assigned action points with deadlines, and metrics will provide the catalyst for the top team interaction to focus on what matters most... Offering the team an opportunity to vote on the priorities and action points can also fuel accountability. Businesses are not democracies, but if you want buy in you have to be prepared to listen to what your top team is saying and change course accordingly.
Adapt and learn quickly. Our nation’s special forces utilize the same strategic decision process on every battlefield around the world. The foundation of their strategy is based on the team’s ability to make a decision and quickly learn from their unfolding circumstances, outside information, and then evolving interaction with their environment. By using this process the team adapts and learns in order to choose the next move. Not all moves are successful.Take a look at the best selling book “ Lone Survivor” written by Marcus Luttrell a Texan hero, for how many counter moves are required before he achieves a successful outcome in dire circumstances.
Now with the five habits intact, let's review the four categories of No Man's Land that Doug Tatum refers to as the four M’s.
In a later article we will review specific company case studies and where one of the M’s above halted the progress of the company and had to be thoroughly addressed before the company could continue on its journey through “No Man’s land”.
I welcome questions and observations on both the book and transitions in general.
Peter Duff, Partner Newport Board Group. Peter.Duff@NewportBoardGroup.com
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