Is Your Company A Disruptor?

 

Today’s business world continues to be quite challenging, regardless of how a company is faring in figuring out the post-COVID recovery.

While many CEOs have made changes to take advantage of new opportunities, others are still struggling to develop plans to enable them to continue to survive or to get back to pre-COVID profitability levels.

 

TIME FOR SOME DISRUPTION?

While some business owners will maintain an attitude of business as usual and others will make incremental changes that they hope will improve their business, there is an increasing sense that businesses must take an entirely different approach in planning for the future.

That is for businesses to adopt the philosophy of being a “disruptor” in their industry or business segment.

 

NOT A NEW CONCEPT …

While the term “disruptor” sometimes has a negative meaning, like chaos or confusion, the truth is that “business disruptors” have always been around.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School Professor, popularized the term “disruptive innovation” in 1997 through his book The Innovator Dilemma. He defined it as “a specific way that smaller companies can outcompete and eventually destroy their bigger rivals”.

There are many examples of such disruptors over the last century and in many cases, they were companies that no one thought had a chance to ever succeed.

For example, no one thought that the Model T Ford would replace the horse and buggy, or that Tesla could ever be commercially viable, or that eventually the electric car could conceivably replace combustible engines.

 

A DISRUPTOR’S MINDSET …

We could go on and on with examples (think Amazon or Apple), however, it’s clear that whatever the prevailing current mindset has been, it has always been challenged and a better idea, concept or industry has often changed the way companies operate, or fail, if they don’t anticipate the changes needed to keep up.

In reality, not many small businesses can be a Tesla or an Amazon and disrupt an entire industry.

What they can do, however, is to adopt the mindset of a “disruptor” and establish plans for changing the way they do business with the idea of improving their competitive position in the market.

In our experience in helping many companies make changes to improve their business, this is easier said than done.

 

ARE YOU AFRAID TO CHANGE?

Many companies are afraid of change, let alone making major changes, as they are concerned that change may not work. They are caught in the cycle of believing that “if its not broken, don’t fix it”.

Many other companies are willing to make changes, however, they are not successful as a result of not carefully considering the objectives or developing a realistic plan to accomplish them.

Furthermore, there are a lot of companies that claim to know where their industry is going, but few will take action and make the right investments in people and technology to bring those innovative ideas into reality.

 

COMMON SUCCESS FACTORS …

Companies that are successful in improving their competitive position in the marketplace have several things in common.

First and foremost is a change in the culture of the company. In the process of planning to be a “disruptor”, it’s important to change the mindset of the people in the company.

As part of this effort, companies need to discover new ways to conduct business and empower their teams to share their ideas and take calculated risks.

Communication throughout the process is extremely important. The need for change and the way change will occur within a company must be communicated to everyone, frequently.

The management team must be on the same page on how change will take place and the expectation that everyone will be on board. This may be difficult, it may well be necessary to bring in new managers or staff that have had experience in driving change or innovation.

 

TIME TO THINK DIFFERENTLY …

Companies must also be willing to be somewhat uncomfortable in stepping out and trying a new approach to marketing, or the way they sell products, and be open to trying different tactics that may improve their position in the market.

That doesn’t mean initially taking radical risks, however, what it does mean, is to develop an outside of the box thinking in their approach to running their business.

Companies must not only plan for the desired outcome, but they must have definitive timelines and must also take swift action to implement these changes. Moving quickly is a mindset that must be an integral part of the culture change as well.

Businesses must decide whether they are willing to do what it takes to take on a disruptor mindset or run the risk that they may well be the ones left behind to face the consequences.

A status quo approach in business can only work for so long when competitors are innovating and trail-blazing new horizons around you.

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

Reacting to a Lack of Employees

 

The help wanted signs are everywhere.

Despite the national unemployment rate of 5.4%, companies continue to have difficulty finding employees. This is especially hard with lower paying jobs, but the problems occur with higher paying blue-collar positions as well.

In my town, restaurants have done away with takeout ordering due to lack of staff, the local market has closed its deli section due to lack of staff and even one of the most secure employers, the US Post Office, has help wanted signs everywhere, with no takers.

And probably one of the most important, the Washington State Ferry System is cancelling ferry runs due to lack of staff. And that’s not an easy problem to solve because ferry crews require a certain amount of training and appropriate maritime certificates.

 

ONE QUESTION IS …

Where did all of the employees that held these jobs pre-pandemic go?

The answer is complex. Allowing for the illness caused by the pandemic, many people had to make significant changes to their work/life balance. Parents had to home school children.

Those who had childcare had to make decisions as to continue it for their children. Some adults decided that taking public transportation created too much risk for their families. While others simply decided that the work environment itself was simply too risky.

The radio station CJJR in Vancouver, BC discussed a study conducted among twenty-to-thirty-year old’s in BC. The vast majority indicated that they would prefer to have three or four “gig” jobs than a single “career” job. They cited the ability to make their own decisions regarding the work they did, the ability to decline assignments and the greater control over their work/life balance.

 

OBJECTING TO THE RISKS …

We see this in the US as well.

For example: One of the schools at the University of Washington is mandating that staff return to the office in September despite some staff members objecting to the risk.

Other companies have set deadlines as well. A group of Amazon warehouse workers in New York sued the company claiming that working conditions put them and their families at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19.

Smaller companies that require a physical presence onsite are finding out that the skilled personnel they require, often believe that they don’t have the programs in place to protect those workers in a way that the workers feel safe.

 

What can a smaller company do to make its employees feel both safe and valued?

 

WHEN FEAR DOMINATES …

No matter the number of masks or bottles of hand sanitizer available, business owners have to make employees feel safe in the workplace and around customers.

And how can a smaller company attract the employees needs when the fear outweighs the need of a job?

One answer is to both communicate with employees and those who apply for positions. Give them a clear understanding of the steps the company is taking to protect them and ask them for ideas of how the company can do better.

As a model, the airlines are a decent example.

No one gets on the plane without a mask. And the airlines are willing to take draconian steps to insure that those masks stay in place. In addition, they have beefed up air filtration systems to provide maximum security.

Will a company lose business if they insist on masks and vaccinated customers?

Undoubtedly yes. But will their employees support them? Quite probably, but the word-of-mouth publicity will serve as an offset. There is still approximately 20% of the US population that remains unvaccinated. As more employment positions, travel, and other facilities begin to demand proof of vaccines, any problems caused by such demands become mitigated.

 

CAN’T ATTRACT NEEDED EMPLOYEES?

But what if the problem is that a company can’t attract the employees they need?

Some of the answers may have been provided by the British Columbia survey. Attract those individuals that are looking for “gig” work with a more gig like environment. Share a job between two or three people.

Provide the necessary training and once trained, let them work out their own schedules. You get the equivalent of a full-time trained person and these workers get the life/work balance they are looking for.

Most “gig” workers are not motivated by money or careers. They are looking for more control over their lives. Perhaps if your company doesn’t have to provide benefits, it can offer selected bonuses, or some paid for educational courses.

The important thing in the age of Covid-19 is to clearly demonstrate that a company is taking care of its workers both physically and psychologically while providing a creative environment that allows this new type of worker the flexibility and control over their lives.

It’s probably not going to happen at the Post Office, but it could happen at your company.

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

The Business Automation Imperative: Why Getting Ahead of the Curve is Crucial

 

This article was contributed by Bill Lawrence,
a Principal of Revitalization Partners.
It was first published in the King County
Bar Association newsletter.

There is no question that small to medium size businesses (SMB) have had to make major changes to their business models in order to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses were forced to make rapid changes in many cases just to survive, while others failed to adapt and have either gone out of business or are struggling to stay afloat.

As corporate or general counsel to these companies, attorneys play a significant role in advising executive management on the legal ramifications associated with whatever course the board and management choose to pursue.

Beyond that responsibility, however, lawyers also have a unique opportunity to participate in forward-looking discussions around how best to invest in the company’s future growth and build enterprise value. Our goal is to equip them for those strategic conversations.

 

RE-THINKING PRODUCTIVITY …

There are a number of factors that would indicate that the requirement to change rapidly will continue well into the future, and in fact, will accelerate.

Here’s why: The United States is producing the same amount of goods and services as before the pandemic.

 

However, it’s occurring with 8.2 million fewer workers according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The pandemic forced companies to become more productive by accelerating the introduction of robots, advanced software and artificial intelligence to maintain required levels of production.

 

ATTRACTING SKILLED WORKERS …

Now, companies are facing serious problems in attracting enough skilled worked to meet projected increase in demand.

This shortage, coupled with the prospect of wage inflation and high employee turnover, has fueled the need to improve productivity more rapidly.

Adding further pressure, lenders are seeing a surge in inquiries from businesses related to financing for new equipment purchases.

Given the overwhelming evidence that improving productivity is now a mandate for companies, what should CEOs be doing now to either catch up – or, just stay even with their competitors? How can legal counsel help them develop a strategic framework to inform those discussions?

 

NOW AN OPERATIONAL IMPERATIVE …

First, there must be an ongoing effort to examine their business and understand where there are opportunities to improve productivity and profitability. This must be an imperative in operating their business, as there may well be multiple areas where small changes could result in significant improvement.

Improving productivity must be part of a cultural change. Management must make sure to reinforce with each key manager the mindset that improving productivity is an expectation.

Out of the box thinking must be encouraged and in fact be a normal part of the planning process.

Furthermore, legal advisors should be part of an executive team or task force that helps leadership set productivity improvement goals so that key people have a framework in which to evaluate potential changes in the methods, equipment or technology that supports higher output.

Setting goals and having frequent discussions regarding how to achieve them will improve effectiveness and minimize legal pitfalls. Financial rewards for achieving goals will also motivate key managers to work together to achieve them in a more focused and coordinated manner.

 

SCALING THROUGH AUTOMATION …

Rapid advancement in technology and automation has made it easier for companies to achieve improvement in productivity.

This is particularly evident in areas related to customer service, production planning, and the use of faster and more productive equipment utilizing automated technology and manpower and productivity planning.

Understanding the areas of a business where productivity can be enhanced will help management teams, including their legal counsel, determine the most appropriate tools available to attain their goals and in what time frame they can be achieved.

Typically, investment in automation and equipment can be justified and financed based on the return on investment and cost savings realized by implementing these tools.

As we’ve heard said, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.

In reality, it is a pathway to failure. Companies that embrace the new normal baseline for business productivity will have an advantage in competing with their peers.

Those that don’t will find it difficult to keep up, and even worse, it could be their demise.

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

The Need for Independent Board Directors

Most small and mid-sized businesses already have a board of directors. In fact, if they are organized as a corporation, they are required to have a board.

But many of these boards are made up of family members in a family- owned business or friends and sometimes investors in a mid-sized company. But is this really the best we can do?

A notable trend in business over the past few years has been the pressure on public companies to upgrade their governance practices by having a majority of independent directors. Many private companies should be doing the same. There are a number of reasons, both material and cosmetic, to be taking these steps.

 

FORM A FIDUCIARY BOARD …

It is important to consider forming a fiduciary board (as opposed to an advisory board) with one or more outside independent directors. Yet owners will comment: “We are doing just fine without a board”. Understandable. They can rely on their paid advisers like their attorney and CPA, other family members and even fellow business owner friends.

However, just being an attorney or accountant does not automatically license one to give business advice.

Years of direct experience are generally the only true path to the expertise and authority required for giving sophisticated business advice.

Many companies have upgraded to outside board members to provide advice on key strategic issues.

Expert seasoned outside directors can offer invaluable counsel on a variety of significant issues. The objective is to add to and expand the breadth of resources already available within the family and friends and among its employees, not to simply duplicate the already accessible experience of the existing management and ownership.

 

A BEST OF CLASS BOARD …

One of the most compelling reason to form a board is to strive to have a best-of-class managing group within your industry. A more basic reason might be improving your company image in the eyes of customers, vendors, bankers and even employees.

One of the most important byproducts of a board is the increased accountability of management whether or not that includes family. There is no business leader who has never made a mistake or an occasional error in judgment.

Having a qualified and balanced board can dramatically reduce these missteps. It gives even the most capable businessperson a critical check and balance. Another compelling reason is when a company is raising money or considering a sale. Investors or purchasers always place more value on a company with a comprehensively organized management team and board of directors.

 

YELLOW FLAGS …

When any decision is questioned by the board, a yellow flag is raised, allowing management to studiously reconsider based on the concerns surfaced by the board. Perhaps management was already aware of these concerns, perhaps not.

Regardless, this process substantially reduces potential problems. In the end the company and management may decide to stick to their original plan, but if challenged from the outside, they will certainly be more prepared and smarter for the process.

Aside from the governance aspects of an independent fiduciary board of directors, which a family business does not require, there is the benefit of assembling a small group of true experts, at a relatively low cost.

It gives the family leadership the opportunity to augment any weaknesses in skills or experience without hiring another expensive full-time employee.

  • Could you use some fresh ideas?
  • Is senior management all family members?
  • Do all the family members always agree?

 

FILLING EXPERIENCE GAPS …

A director from another industry might be a source of innovative ideas. Do you have some tough competitors? A director that has previously dealt with those issues could be helpful.

Would you like to acquire another company, sell internationally, or outsource manufacturing to China, but have never done it? An independent director may know how.

A mix of outside directors can be a practical solution when family owners and their managers admit that their personal experience in some critically important business areas is just not what it needs to be in today’s competitive environment.

A common misconception within closely held companies is that having independent directors will lead to loss of control.

In actuality, control is not sacrificed.

Independent directors enable you to have access to more knowledge, use your resources more wisely and leverage as much experience as you possibly can. You can work smarter and be better prepared than your competition. A board is a strategic weapon when wielded by wise management.

 

WHAT ARE REPORTING DYNAMICS?

What are the reporting dynamics of a board? A fiduciary board reports to the shareholders. Their sole responsibility is to protect the interests of the ownership. All employees, including senior management, generally report to the CEO. The CEO, in turn, always reports to the board.

In a case in which the CEO is not the majority owner of the company, for example a large-cap public company, the reporting is a straight line very simple. He or she can be directed and even fired by the board.

But what about when the CEO
and their family own the company?

This creates a circular reporting structure, but it is still simple. The CEO reports to the board, and the ownership elects the board. Therefore, the board reports to the CEO and family. But this is not like rock-paper-scissors, a circular game where one element always trumps the next. In a family firm, the majority owners almost always have the final say.

 

SERVING THE GREATER GOOD …

A board composed solely of family and management will usually include directors who are experts about the business itself, and the industry. The board will certainly represent family interests. However, the director’s individual expertise and skills can be somewhat limited.

In addition, the possibility always exists that disagreements between family members can compromise a director’s judgment on some issues.

Independent director’s fiduciary responsibility will require them to consider the greater good of the firm and all its owners, as opposed to the benefit of any given faction.

 

The members of Revitalization Partners have helped assemble and currently serve on boards for both companies and non-profit entities. If you are considering the issue of forming or maximizing board participation, feel free to give us a call.

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

 

Normally this blog posts articles related to distressed companies, management concepts and financial management or activities.

This week is different.

This blog is about the country, which is in as much difficulty as any distressed company.

 

 

BOMBARDED WITH MISINFORMATION …

Recently I heard a story from a close friend of mine.

Her son, who is in his 50’s living in California, refuses to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

His girlfriend has been bombarding him with misinformation regarding problems and side effects.

He believes this despite the fact that his father and stepmother are both in the hospital with Covid-19 as this is written.

Some states and the federal government have worked tirelessly to convince unvaccinated people to get the shots.

There have been incentives, lottery’s, free tickets, paid time off, etc.

Despite these incentives, 74% of unvaccinated people state they are unwilling or probably unwilling to get vaccinated.

 

TAKING THE WRONG APPROACH …

Obviously, these entities are taking the wrong approach. Many of these unvaccinated people state that they don’t trust the government or don’t want the government to tell them what to do. And we certainly do not want yet another government bureaucracy.

But maybe it’s time for the stick instead of the carrot.

What those of us who are vaccinated have heard from those unvaccinated is that they’re not worried about getting sick and if they do, they’re healthy and will recover.

And if that was all that would happen, it is their right to get sick.

But the new variants of this virus are highly transmissible and what about the other people that someone infects who may not be as healthy as they are.

Do they really have the right to potentially cause another person’s death, without any accountability, because of their own beliefs?

 

A POLITICAL FOOTBALL …

The sad part is that what should be a medical emergency has become a political football. Our politics and the courts are cluttered up with issues of the constitutionality of mask mandates.

Safety issues on public transportation lead to fights about someone’s right to not wear a mask. In these cases, an incentive clearly doesn’t work. We’re just dealing with stupidity.

The positivity rate of Covid-19 has more than doubled over the past three weeks and shows no signs of slowing down. In certain states, hospitals facilities are stretched to their maximum and beyond.

 

WHO PAYS?

One question we should all be asking is:

Who pays for the care of these people that
could have been vaccinated but refused?

If they have insurance, then all of our insurance rates will increase.

If not, maybe we should ask those state legislators about who’s paying the bills for those unvaccinated, uninsured very sick people.

Maybe we should start asking businesses why they aren’t taking more action to keep the rest of us safe. And then start supporting those that begin doing so.

Why should we all take a risk of becoming sick or dying because some people don’t believe in science?

 

SOME WORK TOWARDS A SOLUTION …

We have seen some businesses work toward a solution. Airlines enforce the mask mandate. Concerts and Broadway shows only allow those vaccinated attendees.

Even cruise lines operating out of Florida where the legislators passed state laws that conflict with science, have found a way around the issue by requiring unvaccinated people to carry trip insurance and submit to additional testing. And bear the costs of these things.

When members of Revitalization Partners have served in interim management capacities, we focus on the problems in a given situation and how best to fix them. But no matter how good or experienced we or those trying to help with this situation are, as that famous saying goes:

“You can’t fix Stupid.”

 

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.