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Performance & Growth

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Bad Says Sirdar Group CEO

Want to be good at one thing? Be willing to be really bad at something else. When trying to grow your business, diversifying is not always the answer.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Carl Bates
  • Company: The Sirdar Group
  • Established: 2007 (2008 in SA)
  • Visit: sirdargroup.com

Sirdar has developed a reputation for being very good at putting together high-performance boards for private companies. But for a long time, that wasn’t all it did. As is the case with many growing companies, Sirdar started offering clients associated services as time went on. For example, the company started offering a legal service — an obvious extension of its existing offerings.

In March 2014, Sirdar was also in the process of considering launching a new accounting service — something that had been on the cards for a number of years. Something happened, however, that fundamentally altered the company’s expansion plan.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Sirdar Global CEO Carl Bates attended a talk by Professor Frances Frei of the Harvard Business School. What she said had a profound impact on him.

Be unapologetically bad

“Professor Frei explained that the number one obstacle to excellence is the desire to be great at everything. You can’t be great at everything, and you can’t be better than your competitors at all the things you do. So, the answer lies in being willing to be bad at certain things in the service of overall excellence.

“You have to be great at some things, and unapologetically bad at others. The alternative is simply being mediocre at everything,” says Bates.

Bates realised that Sirdar’s approach to growth needed to change. “We had a strategic meeting in April, and once I had shown my colleagues a video clip of Professor Frei’s presentation, we agreed to stop offering legal services,” says Bates. “We also decided to stop developing our accounting service.”

A half-measure

Carl-Bates-

After taking these initial steps, though, the process of transformation within Sirdar stalled. Sure, the argument made sense in theory, but putting it into practice was hard. The thought of purposefully turning off revenue streams just felt, well, wrong.

“By deciding to cancel existing services you’re effectively saying ‘no’ to money,” says Bates. “This can be difficult to do — and difficult to explain to stakeholders. Frei’s theory is simultaneously logical and counter-intuitive.”

Sirdar kept toying with the idea of focusing its operations on what it did best, but Bates and his team remained hesitant to pull the trigger and aggressively implement the strategy. In fact, it was not until late 2015 that it was decided to jump in with both feet.

“We realised that we weren’t truly adopting the strategy on an operational level, and it was costing us,” says Bates. “By spreading ourselves too thin, we weren’t being the best we could really be.”

Related: Understanding Leadership And Natural Energy

Staking a claim

The Sirdar team asked themselves a simple question: What could they be truly great at? Could they offer class-leading legal services? No, they weren’t a law firm. Could they offer the best accounting service around? No, they weren’t an accounting firm.

Could they be the best when it came to the implementation of high-performance boards? Yes, they could — this was where their strength truly lay. It was time for Sirdar to become unapologetically bad at certain things in the service of becoming great at another.

“You need to try and narrow the category in which you operate as much as possible. You need to identify that very specific niche in which you could be a real leader, and then stake your claim,” says Bates.

Turning off the taps

Turning off revenue streams will always sting a little, but Sirdar immediately saw the benefit of this approach.

“Management suddenly had more time to operate at a strategic level. By cancelling certain services, there was more time to focus on the direction of the company,” says Bates.

The company also found that it could now more easily enter into strategic partnerships with other organisations.

“We had been working with partners for a while, but there had always been limits to these partnerships, since our service offerings had encroached on their areas of operation. With the conflict of interest now gone, there could be greater synergy between the companies,” says Bates.

The innovator’s dilemma

What advice does Bates have for businesses wishing to implement this sort of strategy?

“By their very nature, entrepreneurs are innovators. They’re always busy developing something new. So, the key lies is applying that energy to the operational side of things — to focus on things such as customer service and product delivery,” says Bates.

Related: How To Create A Focused Board

And what if you’re not interested in the operational side of things?

“Bill Gates is a good example. He made himself the Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, and not the CEO. You have to ask yourself: Am I the innovator, or am I the CEO? If you’re the innovator, you need to find someone who is great at running the company.

“I’m another good example,” says Bates. “I don’t run Sirdar on a daily basis. I’m more of an innovator — I focus on governance methodology and building our external relationships. But even though I focus some of my time on innovation, I make sure that this innovation stays within the parameters of our core focus.”

Remember this

Do not try to be all things to all people. Diversifying and branching out can be a good thing, but it can also cause you to lose focus and give up your competitive edge.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

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Performance & Growth

How To Survive Exponential Change In Your Business

How to get out of the habit of thinking small, and start thinking in giant leaps for radical – and profitable – change.

Matt Brown

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I recently went to a meet and greet session at a company that turns over R13 billion a year. As I was introduced to other executives, I was referred to as ‘the guy who is at the pinnacle of podcasting in South Africa’. This kind of feedback is truly humbling, but after hearing that, the only question I had on my mind was: “But for how long is anyone or any brand at the top of any market?”

The Challenge of Change

Change is no longer happening in a linear fashion; it’s occurring exponentially. We love linear thinking, because we have been conditioned to think in small steps (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) but we totally suck at exponential thinking (1, 2, 4, 16, 32, 1 024). To a greater and greater extent this is the world we are heading into.

Almost inevitably, markets that used to be relatively predictable are winding up in an entirely new paradigm and some of the world’s largest and most reputable companies have been caught unaware. The main culprit? The exponential growth surprise factor.

For example, in 2012, Toys R Us was a $12 billion company with a retail footprint comprising 1 600 stores. In September 2017, they filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy… only five years later. The message is simple: Innovate or die.

But more importantly, there is a new challenge facing all entrepreneurs today: How can you prepare yourself and help your business survive in an exponential business world?

Related: Asking The Wrong Questions Will Break Your Business

Here’s a four-step process that can help you get started.

1. Look out for the Warning Signs

In my experience, the warning signs of disaster are present in every industry one to three years before disaster strikes. Ironically, many businesses are simply not paying attention to the warning signs in their market — or even worse, do not know what warning signs to look out for.

Because all industries and businesses are subject to different warning signs, a simple, yet highly effective way to know when your business is in the throes of a critical warning sign is when something within your industry doesn’t make sense.

When a linear industry is on the verge of disruption it generally manifests into something that doesn’t make sense for the incumbents in that industry.

In 2008, when blockchain technology and the Bitcoin first manifested itself, it didn’t make sense to many in financial services. Fast forward to today and there are over 1 000 cryptocurrencies that you can actively trade and the promise of the decentralisation of all industries — not just the financial services industry — is very real.

So, if something new enters your industry and it doesn’t make sense to you it’s time to apply step number three.

2. Ask Why

If you ask a group of incredibly smart people to solve a very difficult problem and they can’t seem to solve it, you may find that they don’t lack collective intelligence, but perspective on the problem itself.

Whenever this eventuality occurs the best thing to do is ask “why” repeatedly until you find the perspective that you need to make new decisions in your business. It’s one of most powerful yet completely undervalued questions that any business leader can ask.

3. Act

Almost all success in business comes down to execution. Toys R Us didn’t act. When all is said and done, they simply did not believe in the Internet and they paid the highest price. In an exponential world, the ability to not just act but to act quickly is priceless.

Related: 5 Answers From Digital Kungfu On Why Podcasts Are Your Best Self Development Tool

4. Move forward

No industry is immune. Let’s take podcasting for example. Our data shows that the addressable market for podcasts is already 16 million people; 50% of all podcast consumption growth over the last five years has happened in the last 12 months; and media consumption is shifting faster than we think into the on-demand space.

To address this exponential shift in media consumption, the Matt Brown Show is evolving from a podcast into a fully-fledged new media company. So, my question to you is simple: How is your business preparing itself for the future? EM


IN YOUR TOOLKIT

Get some perspective

the-innovators-dilemma-when-new-technologies-cause-great-firms-to-fail-by-clayton-christensenREAD THIS: The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christensen

While decades of researchers have struggled to understand why even the best companies almost inevitably fail, Clayton Christensen shows how most companies miss out on new waves of innovation.  His answer is surprising and almost paradoxic: It is actually the same practices that lead the business to be successful in the first place that eventually can also result in its eventual demise. This breakthrough insight has made The Innovator’s Dilemma a must-read for managers, CEOs, innovators, and entrepreneurs alike.

ASK WHY

Drawing from Matt Brown’s article, start implementing quarterly meetings that review the biggest challenges the company is facing, and start asking the question ‘why’ of even the most basic tenets that are being taken for granted.

The idea is to find a new perspective of the same problem.

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Performance & Growth

Too Big For Your Boots?

How to manage the complexities of a rapidly expanding business.

Greg Morris

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It may come as a surprise to many, but too much success too soon can result in a company’s failure. That’s often because the company out-runs its ability to sustain and control that success, and a decline follows.

Say, for instance, that an organisation reaches increasingly higher sales targets, but its infrastructure doesn’t scale at the same rate. Inconsistencies and weaknesses begin to appear in its management systems. Quality suffers, and, eventually, the positive trend plateaus and tips downwards.

The answer? Don’t misjudge the impact that business and management can have on realising a sustainable growth strategy. The systems you have in place today may not work when addressing new challenges – or, they may make it next to impossible for you to meet them.

Related: The Most Common Mistake with Global Business Expansion

If your organisation is on a growth path, consider these six elements:

1. The right talent

Develop a management system that measures accountability against specific standards and ensures that the quality of your products and services doesn’t waver. As service quality often depends on human capital, you’ll need the right mix of people at every level.

Give non-management employees the autonomy to contribute positively, and recognise them for it. They’ll reward you with good outcomes and ensure that the foundation of your growth is that much sturdier, while developing a robust working environment.

Identify the people in your organisation whose roles will be most affected by your expansion, and enable them to take initiative outside of their standard work requirements. This way, they’re more likely to get involved and help you to create new cross-organisational systems that address tasks in parallel.

2. Controlling quality

It’s easy to lose track of quality when your business is growing speedily, so give the task of maintaining quality to a loyal management team. Assign them the responsibility for overseeing everything from product development to internal systems and manufacturing.

It’s also important for you to remember that service-based organisations face quality concerns as they grow, and that finding the right talent (see Element #1 above) can be as limiting as a blockage in a production line.

Related: 6 Signs That You Should Stop A Business Expansion In Its Tracks

3. Processes that scale

Make sure that your processes and projects are executed in the same way every time. Don’t let your systems become un-scalable; establish which ones are most likely to come under strain as the company expands.

4. Manage cashflow

Numbers never lie. When your company is growing, beware of the danger of spending more than you can afford. More oversight or adjustments may be necessary to increase effectiveness, quality, and sales.

When determining if you’re going to front-load your capital investment, be confident that cash is coming into your account as a result of the investment. Remember that cash profits and accounting profit are very different. Cash profits are your bread and butter.

If you aren’t positioned to finance your own expansion and you require outside funding, carefully consider the pros and cons of getting into debt, as well as the length of the loan and interest rate.

Related: Expansion Funding Options For Your Growing Business

5. Finding investors

Conduct detailed research into potential investors, as each will have sector or industry interests, investment mandates, and value preferences. Pinpoint these, assimilate with them, and make sense of them before engaging.

Then, make the effort to thoroughly evaluate the potential investor. Do this by first determining where your interests are aligned and then uncovering:

  • The source of the investors’ capital
  • Their investment track records
  • The returns that they usually aim for
  • Their traditional risk profiles
  • Their investment mandates.

6. Communicating culture

Spend as much time determining, sharing, and entrenching your company’s current and growing culture as you do addressing your growth strategy.

With each new stage of growth, commit time and resources into making sure that the cultures of different departments don’t implode when put together – impacting on customers, important employees, or worse.

Make your employees aware of what the future will hold, how it is likely to affect them, and what the bigger picture looks like.

In essence…

No matter the size of your business or what your growth plans are, expansion can expose you to a host of risks. These may be existing problems that worsen, or new ones that are uncovered for the first time. Either way, it’s crucial that you identify them, prepare for them, and make plans to protect yourself in the face of growth.

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Driving Your Business Growth Towards More Customers

Designed to help its customers get the most from their businesses through the right telematics solution, New WEBFLEET can help you reach your customers quicker, get more done, improve efficiencies, save costs and boost your revenues.

TomTom Telematics

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Europe’s highly regulated operating environment has made telematics ubiquitous in business. On the one hand, this means industries across the spectrum have become safer, more efficient and highly productive across the EU. On the other, it’s much harder to stand out from the crowd when everyone follows the same best practice standards.

“We don’t have those same stringent regulations in place,” says Justin Manson, Sales Director, Africa at TomTom Telematics. “Our clients have realised what a huge competitive advantage this actually offers them though.

“Locally, everyone understands the role that telematics plays in tracking what your drivers are doing right and wrong, and use it as a tool for encouraging good driving practices, but there’s so much more to this solution, and we’re making it our mission to help business owners really use it to their benefit.

“When deployed across the organisation to its full capabilities, a telematics system can radically improve productivity and workflow. Done correctly, a business can save up to 10% on its bottom line, and redeploy that cash into the company’s growth, thanks to drivers reaching customers quicker and getting more done. The right data also increases productivity and ensures better turnaround times.”

Thomas Schmidt, MD of TomTom Telematics, loves visiting South Africa for this very reason. “Because so many business owners aren’t using telematics to their full extent, there’s such a huge opportunity for us to assist businesses in their growth here,” he says. “We deliver a high-value stack of products that can change the way companies operate, and most importantly help them save money and make money. The challenge for us is educating our customers so that they understand what our solutions offer, and the incredible impact they can have on a business. We consistently improve these solutions based on customer feedback as well, making them very much from customers for customers.

Related: Why Your Fleet Management Plays a Pivotal Role In Your Business

“Anyone can buy a map for less than R100. Why invest in such expensive devices? The answer is because we’ve developed solutions that change lives. With the right data — and access to that data — you increase safety, simplify your business, drive efficiencies, increase your output and customer service, and ensure you are always productive and reliable — across the organisation. And that impact can be measured, and given a real ROI value.

“Imagine the impression companies that operate at that level make on their industries. They stand out from their competitors. There is so much room for growth in South Africa as we deploy these solutions.”

Game-changing solutions

As an organisation, TomTom Telematics is focused on continuous growth and innovation as well, constantly learning from market conditions, its customers and industry needs to improve its product offerings.

The result is the launch of New WEBFLEET in February 2018. “We’ve increased the value we offer our customers,” says Thomas. “We’ve collated data from hundreds of thousands of customers around the world who gave us their feedback through surveys, and New WEBFLEET is a window into easy-to-use, smart fleet management that is a game changer for companies.”

“TomTom Telematics is in the business of helping businesses,” agrees Justin. “Our goal is help our customers master their challenges. The right data at your fingertips will help you change the way you operate. That’s our goal. How much cash is being left on the table in an organisation because of inefficiencies?”

Introducing New Webfleet

The smartest way to manage your vehicles and mobile workforce

tomtom-telematicsTomTom Telematics’ state of the art Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) fleet management solution, with best-in-class user interface, is inspired by two decades of working together with customers to achieve more for better fleet management. New WEBFLEET is everything you need to manage your vehicles in the cloud, in real time. It allows you to monitor reports and dashboards, manage orders/workflow, and improve driving behaviour, safety and service, helping you save fuel and reduce costs.

Best-in-class user interface

  • A future-proof platform with a completely renewed interface, based on the latest HTML5 technology and driven by continuous innovation.
  • Simple and clean interface, with minimised clicks for faster working.
  • Intuitive functionality, means it is more accessible for greater impact across your business.
  • User rights management and state-of-the-art data handing ensures the highest level of data privacy and data security.
  • Fast access to the right information.

Related: Fleet Tools Will Help You Get More Done In Less Time

Map view

Know where your vehicles are and where they have been. Different map options such as Google, Google Street View or satellite map are enriched with traffic information, giving you a more detailed view on what’s happening on the roads. Toggle between different types of information on the map such as traffic, addresses and areas and create specific views, so you only see the information you need.

Dashboard

New WEBFLEET’s dashboard gives an overview of performance at a glance. Up to 27 KPIs can be used to track the performance of vehicles, individuals, benchmark teams or give a simple overview. This helps you to track real-time performance against your pre-defined KPIs.

Reporting

New WEBFLEET gives you instant access to the information that matters, meaning you can spot trends over time and use real-time information to make smarter and more informed decisions. You can instantly download or schedule reports to help you stay on top of everything — from fuel efficiency and legal compliance to quality of service.

Manage on the move

New WEBFLEET is optimised so you can manage your fleet on any device by entering WEBFLEET through a web browser or by downloading the WEBFLEET Mobile app on your smartphone.

Send routes direct to drivers

  • Plan accurate routes in New WEBFLEET by adjusting multiple variables such as location, time of departure/arrival, traffic and vehicle type.
  • Get a choice of alternative routes, as well as suggested fastest route with traffic.
  • Customise your route by simply adding new waypoints, or dragging and dropping existing waypoints on a route. Then choose from guided or forced route* options.
  • Send planned routes directly to a TomTom PRO driver terminal to keep your drivers on the right track.

Related: Time Is Money And It’s Time You Saved Both When Running Your Fleet

Personalised Map views*

  • Create your own saved map view to reach information you need fast.
  • Switch between vehicle groups or areas, without needing to adjust the map filters and zoom levels. n

Personalisation

Many ways to customise WEBFLEET to suit individual requirements from personalised views to adding information to make what you see more informative on one page.

Plan a route the way you want it

Use multiple variables (including waypoints) to give fastest or most efficient routes.

Access WEBFLEET

Across different device types, allowing you to always stay on top of business.

Simple, clean and easy to administer

Toggle between views to get the right information to focus on the task in hand. Get the right information to the right people at the right time, keep data secure and in the right hands.

Send routes to driver terminals

In real time, ensure drivers follow or avoid specific routes.

Visit telematics.tomtom.com/tellmemore and follow us on Twitter @TomTomWEBFLEET

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