Archive for April, 2012

What Can Improve Margin?

We have all heard the mantra ” do more with less” and we get it. Scaling, leverage, efficiency… put whatever term you want on it, all of these terms denote the need to increase your margin. There are all different definitions of margin, so let’s start out this discussion with a quick outline of how I am defining margin. Simply put, margin is the difference between what you put in and what you get out.

What are the options with margin? Overall, your goal is to increase the spread between input and output, so you have essentially two angles to play:

1) Decrease what you put in – focus on value
Most individuals consider this part of the equation easy. Just look at your inputs (people, money, time) and try find something similar that is cheaper, right? This is where you find outsourcing (people), discount vendors/parts (money), or process improvements (time). All of these strategies could work, however most are not as effective as people anticipate. Why? The trick with decreasing what you put into something is you must stay focused on value.

Focusing on value makes your considerations of changing input(s) much different.

  • Does your change just include cheaper products? If so, do your cheaper products still hold up and provide the quality experience you are used to getting?
  • Does your new process just make it easier to cut corners? If so, what is now being missed that will catch up with you later?
  • Do your new people just have less experience? Less experience is not always bad. However, if you find they are spending more time to figure out how to do something right vs knowing how to, then what are you really saving?

If you fail to consider what impacts value, then making the changes to decrease cost of input is only going to decrease what you get out. Thus, not increasing your spread between the two (i.e. margin).

2) Increase what you get out – focus on leverage
When looking at the output, the first thing to consider is what are you getting out of everything now? Often, we think we have done a great job by getting something complete and moving on to the next project, but we do not realize the additional potential of leverage.

To determine how to get the most out of leverage, you have to experiment. Here are a couple areas to consider when looking for leverage points:

  • New channels – Keeping everything else the same, is there  a new distribution method for your product or service?
  • New uses – Who else could use your product or service that isn’t on your original target market?
  • New packages – Could you offer your product or service in a new way to serve another group? Could you combine it with another product or service to create a completely different offer?
  • Follow Up – This is the most under utilized area of any program. Have you considered what would happen if you just followed up with customers once or twice after a product or service is completed? It has to be a genuine interest on your part, but trust me, it goes a long way to have a proactive touch point from a company.

Now that you have considered what is already available, you should also consider what you should do that is different. This is where you need to step back and look at all of your input (people, money, time) to determine what else could be done. Here are areas of focus for using leverage to think differently:

  • Completely new products or services – How you could harness all of the input for something completely different. This is tough to pull off, but building a business case is the best route to sell the concept.
  • Change your mix – How much of your revenue comes from product? How much comes from service? If you are 100% product or 100% service, there is opportunity to change that. Consider how to move the mix of product and service to still complement each other for existing customers but also drive new opportunities for market growth.
  • Find new partners – Are you completely working alone or have you enlisted the help of a partner network. Often there are companies that are experts in a niche that is a great complement to yours. If you have not considered who else is out there that plays in the same space, look around. You could put their marketing and sales resources to work for your (for the right price).

Value + Leverage = Increased Margin

By thinking about your input and output in terms of value and leverage, you should be able to change things to create more opportunities. If you are looking to make big changes, plan on a couple offsite days with a cross functional group to evaluate. If you are looking to make smaller incremental changes, then you can probably get good traction by taking an hour or two a day for a week or so.

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The Value of Knowing Your Plus Role

We no longer live in a world where making a big impact can be done by only focusing on what your job description entails. Competition is at an all time high and top tier performance is now a baseline expectation for most employers. So if being great at what you are supposed to do isn’t enough, what is the best way to drive change? Welcome to the world of the “plus role”.

What is a plus role?
Official ownership of function that spans beyond your original role.
Example: My job is Director of Outbound Marketing. I am responsible for driving revenue through Marketing programs from multiple perspectives – regions, verticals, segments, and products. My plus role is liaison with Sales. My responsibility is to channel information to Sales from Marketing and from Sales to Marketing.

How does a plus role apply to the real world?
Note there is an emphasis on this being official or formal, which is the big difference between a plus role and the normal misc tasks that creep into each job. It means there is a consensus that you are the go-to person for this situaton, regardless of business area, product, etc. It is not easy to complete the job you are supposed to do while formally taking on additional responsibility for a function where there is a gap. This is a double-edged sword, but trust me, it really makes an impact when implemented correctly.

How is a plus role different than what I already do in my job?
Just my estimate, but 30-40% of work that is done is not actually the primary focus of your role. Think about all of the status updates or business reviews you have put together where you realized a lot of what you were working on had nothing to do with your primary objectives. If you are good, you have still been able to hit your objectives while taking on the additional initiatives. So what happens then? You make your report, show how you hit your goals, and move on without giving it much thought.

What would happen if you took time to think about the “other” stuff? We all get pulled into various tasks not directly related to our job. We usually jump in, tackle the problem with a short term solution, and move on. Here is the problem with that mentality – there is probably someone else doing the exact same thing as you for the exact same problem. The knowledge becomes siloed and is not used again to make things better for everyone. Now you have multiple people doing something to get around a problem instead of one person owning the solution. Being pulled in multiple directions is normal, what a plus role allows is a chance to harness the 30-40% that we are all not using effectively.

What are the benefits of a plus role?
There are two perspectives to answering this question:

  • Company’s perspective – Having a single person allows for an expertise to be built up by knowing all of the facets of the problem. You will gain more efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately someone who is going to work to solve the problem (or at least make it better).
  • Individual’s perspective – If you are doing well at your primary job, a plus role gives you perspective across a whole new dimension of the business. You get to tackle new obstacles in new areas, gain a better working knowledge of the business, and overall increase your value back to the organization.

What is my first step to defining my plus role?
Look for opportunities in the work you are already doing. This takes 5 minutes, but it is an exercise that will open your eyes to the gaps that exist in your current business. Open your calendar up and look at the past 3 months. Only look at the titles of the meetings. If you can find a meeting that occurs more than twice (staff meetings do not count), then you might have a potential winner. I can almost guarantee you will find a function or initiative that could use solid leadership by doing this. The other part of the equation is to decide whether or not you will be passionate about taking on this additional responsibility. If it matches up, then you have something to work with and the fun begins.

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The Value In Finding Problems and Running Toward The Mess

When is the last time you started the day with a statement like “I can’t wait to run into a problem today” or “Where is the best place to find a mess”? Sounds like things you should actually try to avoid on a daily basis, right? If you want to just do your job and get done with it, then yes, try to avoid these situations. However, if you want to make an impact, then you should actually work to find problems and run toward the mess.

Why should I look for problems or a mess?
Problems represent obstacles and a mess is an irritant to most people. A colleague of mine pointed out one day that we shouldn’t think of these as something to avoid, instead, they should be something we go toward. When approached correctly, these represent opportunities for new solutions. New solutions represent new products, services, jobs, or even companies. It depends on what you can do once you find a problem as to the potential upside.

What should I do when I find a problem or a mess?
1. Figure out the type it is:

  • Efficiency problem – process oriented issue where quantity is generally impacted
  • Effectiveness problem – value oriented issue where quality is generally impacted

2. Determine who it impacts:

  • People that could gain from change – work to get them involved
  • People that could lose from change – work to let them know what is coming and why it is important
  • People that could help you in making the change – get people on your side

3. Find out what it is worth:

  • Ultimately you want to know how much could it save on costs or increase in sales
  • Would it require money to get you there or just time?

4. Do something about it:

  • Start to socialize the concept with others. In this instance, it is better to give than receive. So when talking to others, find out how it can help them, not you.
  • Make a proof of concept. Depending on your skills, get as close to a viable and functioning solution as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to get the point across.

When people find out you are interested in solving problems and cleaning up messes, you become more valuable. Once your interest turns into action, your value increases yet again. And if your action has a positive impact on results, then your value becomes exponentially higher. So in order for you to increase your value, start by finding problems and running toward the mess.

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