Retaining Competitive Advantage
The CEO of a very successful, highly decentralized global financial services firm was faced with the challenge of retaining key customers in an increasingly aggressive, competitive environment. Committed to maintaining the decentralized structure which had been the hallmark of the firm since its founding, the CEO nonetheless felt that the answer to his problem lay in achieving seamless global execution, which, in turn, required greater cross- regional collaboration. Surveying the firm’s several regional management teams, we were able to demonstrate that despite their differences, all of the teams felt that they were facing the same challenges and competition. We used this data to create a series of senior management off-sites and facilitated the cross-business task teams that were established to address the most critical business issues raised at these conferences. Spanning a period of two years, these efforts led to a significant increase in collaboration across business units, streamlined organization-wide operating processes, accelerated product development and delivery, and, most important, the retention of key customers and the winning of business away from the competition.
Redesigning Executive Selection
Following a decade of unprecedented growth, a major money center bank found itself in financial free fall, hemorrhaging both dollars and talent. We were called in by the CEO to take the pulse of its senior managers around the reasons for the decline. To a person, the senior executives we interviewed traced the bank’s current problems to poor selection and staffing decisions at its most senior levels. With the chairman’s support, we undertook a study which looked back at the way senior executives had been selected for key positions (the bank’s top fifty jobs) over the previous ten years. Compiling a data base of over two hundred decisions, we looked at both the rationale and effectiveness of the decisions. What emerged was that the bank’s legendary (and much publicized) development and selection processes had fallen into disrepair and that a more disciplined, systematic process had to be put in place. Building support among the bank’s senior executives by framing the selection process as an investment decision that merited the same attention as major financial decisions, we designed a robust, but streamlined, process that improved the “yield” of subsequent decisions by over 40% over the next five years.
Moving Forward After a Crisis
One of several giants in its field, this Fortune 50 company had just gone through a period of dramatic cost-cutting and downsizing, shedding businesses and laying off close to 40% of its employees. Having worked with the CEO and his senior management team to clarify and reorganize the operating structure during this critical turnaround period, we were retained to orchestrate the major team-building and morale building efforts that followed. Pulling together a team of “future leaders” from the units most directly affected by the changes (critics as well as supporters of the actions the senior management team had taken), we designed a three-day offsite for the firm’s top 300 executives in which: the participants were able to confront the members of the senior management team directly about its actions and ask pointed questions about its plans for the future; senior management spelled out its strategy for moving forward and its expectations of the executives assembled there; and cross-business and cross-functional working teams were established to identify and address the challenges the firm would be facing over the next 2-3 years.
Translating Strategy into Action
A major information services firm with a portfolio of approximately fifty of the industry’s leading companies had invested a considerable amount of time and resources to develop a new corporate-wide strategic planning process that it expected to drive significant growth in its various businesses. Two years after its introduction, the firm found that as compelling as many of the plans were, the actual business results were mixed. Some of the businesses were achieving the goals laid out in the plans. In other cases, the results were decidedly less impressive. We were asked to identify the factors that were contributing to these differences and develop recommendations for improving the performance of the less successful management teams. Our response was to develop an “organizational audit” that surfaced such issues as to whether the members of the various teams saw the competitive landscape in the same light, understood the strategies that were being proposed, agreed with them, and were clear about the concrete steps and resources that would be needed to successfully implement them. Clear patterns emerged between the high performing and lower performing teams, with the lower performing teams receiving a best practices blueprint for more effectively communicating and implementing their strategies.
Starting with only three employees and an idea, the founder and CEO of a privately held research firm tracking developments in the manufacturing arena had over a period of twenty years built his business into a highly sophisticated organization of over two hundred people offering a variety of research reports and consulting services to over one hundred clients in several industries. While the revenues and profits had continued to grow year after year, the CEO felt that the singular focus and cohesion that had characterized the firm in its early years and had fueled its success had eroded. Deciding to eliminate all consulting services, which accounted for approximately a quarter of the firm’s revenues and had strong supporters in the firm, he called us in to design and conduct a series of over a dozen multi-level off-sites aimed at communicating and obtaining workforce (including executive and managerial) commitment to these major changes in the firm’s strategy and culture. Important by-products included greater collaboration across departments, higher customer satisfaction, and implementation of an accelerated process for identifying and entering new markets.
Developing Cross-Cultural Capabilities
The Chinese Services Group of a major international consulting/accounting firm had developed a seven hundred page, step by step process for guiding Chinese senior management teams through the thicket of merging with or acquiring targeted US companies. We were engaged to design a two-day simulation that would demonstrate to the potential Chinese client base – in an engaging manner – the broad outlines of the process, while providing it with important insights into the intercultural dynamics involved. The product that we produced generated considerable excitement and interest among the Chinese business community and led to several important Merger & Acquisition engagements for the firm.