Disrupt, or Be Disrupted
Disrupt, or be disrupted. Embrace digitization and new technologies that are transforming how you live, work, and do business. The pace and scale of disruption are increasing. Look for industry innovators, startups, new technologies, and—most important—shifts in customer behavior. You can’t plan for a world ahead if you are not investing in imagining it.
Keep learning. Education is the great equalizer. Make time to update your skills as well as your technology prowess by learning about innovations in your industry and beyond. If you are an employer, create opportunities for people at all levels to learn and innovate in the digital world.
Change before you have to. The worst mistake is to do the right thing for too long. The time to pivot is when your business is still healthy and you’ve earned customers’ trust. Try out new technologies, and embrace a philosophy of constant change.
Take risks and move fast. Better to stumble first than arrive last. First movers face the biggest risks but get more attention, opportunity, and leeway to make mistakes.
Be a magnet for talent. As an individual, be the person who’s known for embracing innovation and promoting change. And remember the adage, “People won’t remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”
Seek diversity in colleagues, neighbors, customers, and local industries. Company towns can die when the company goes away and like-minded people tend to reinforce existing points of view. Diversity breeds resilience and innovation.
Anchor on your core values and strengths, even as you question conventional wisdom. You can disrupt what you do and what you know, but always stick to who you are and what you value. Build on what you know, and use your expertise to guide you into new areas.
Anticipate failure. At times you will fail. Get up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and move on. How you handle setbacks is as important as how you handle success.
Dream Big and Be Bold… Focus on the Outcome
Before you make your first move, play the entire game out to the desired outcome. Think through the different moves you’ll make to reach the outcome you want, and then replay the game under different scenarios.
Outline exactly what success—the desired outcome—looks like, and measure progress every step of the way. An inspiring goal need not be vague. If you want to be No. 1 in your field, describe what that looks like and what it will take to get there. Help others visualize the process.
Write the press release for the results you want before you start.
Choose three to five things that will really move the needle to get you there. Define the outcome and process as simply as you can. Don’t waste a lot of cycles/resources on actions that will not make a measurable difference.
Align your goals with your culture, your values, and your purpose. Understand why you are reaching for a target and tie it back to your broader purpose and motivation.
Make sure the right people are clear about your plan and definition of success.
Anticipate how your customers, peers, and even competitors are likely to react.
Move on when the outcome can no longer be achieved. Better to concede defeat on a dream and start again than to stick with a losing proposition.
Just do the right thing. Make that value a key part of your culture. When in doubt about a decision on a tough issue, this value often makes the decision a lot easier.
Embrace Your Purpose, Not Your Products
Define your mission around your strengths, your customer’s needs, and the impact you can have.
Watch the competition but focus on market transitions, especially as new technologies and business models create a market shift.
Make a move before the market shifts. You can’t win with an old model or yesterday’s technology. It’s easier to become a leading player when you’re one of the first to move into a new space.
Don’t expand where you don’t see demand. If your customers aren’t interested in where you’re going, ask yourself why.
Outsource your noncore activities to focus on what you do best, but keep watch. Every partner and vendor is a reflection on your brand and your reputation. And don’t lose your connection to your customers.
After Disaster Strikes
The bigger the crisis, the calmer you get. Becoming emotional will lead you to make rash, impulsive decisions. Your teams and your customers will feed off your energy.
In any setback, first determine how much of the damage was self-inflicted and how much was because of the market. Look around at who else stumbled, and why they did. Look at the numbers but talk to the people behind them: your employees, your suppliers, your peers, and most important, your customers.
Don’t disappear or retrench. Meet with your customers and employees. How are they being impacted? What would they change? Where are they vulnerable, and can you help each other get through this? They should learn about your issues from you and not from the press, and vice versa.
Figure out what needs to be fixed and do it fast. Ideally, fix it one time, aggressively.
If the problem is market inflicted, don’t dramatically change your strategy. Your short-term goal becomes survival and then returning to growth. If your strategy was working well and the issues were external, staying with what was working, with a few changes, is probably the right direction.
Do what’s necessary—ideally in one decisive move—to weather the tough times and stay focused on the long term. To come back stronger, you have to be brutal in addressing the flaws that let you become vulnerable.
Communicate. Explain the issues and what you’re doing to fix them to all the stakeholders as the information becomes clear. Be honest about any tough moves you need to make. Be open about your mistakes. Get everyone focused on how you’ll recover and move past this crisis. Then paint the picture of what your company will look like in the future if you successfully navigate the challenges.
Buyer’s Guide to Successful Acquisitions
In acquisitions, look for companies that have a very similar vision of how the industry is going to evolve and what role that they can play in making your vision and your strategy successful.
Focus on the acquisitions that will create or accelerate your leadership in key markets.
Follow your customers’ lead. If your customers aren’t suggesting acquiring this company, you probably should not be acquiring it or even partnering with it.
In technology, the biggest asset is people, followed by technology. Protect that asset in everything you do. The people are the ones who have the relationships and build next-generation products. If you lose them, you fail.
Create a true win-win for the acquired company or partner. If they’re not excited by the potential of what you can do together, walk away.
Be true to your culture. If your target doesn’t share your values, it doesn’t belong in your family, no matter how good the financials.
Prioritize. Don’t waste time chasing down marginal deals. The cost to your team, your customers, and your culture is too high. Every target must fit with your strategy, your portfolio, and your product mix/architecture to be successful. If you can’t see some immediate benefit to you and your customers, don’t do the deal.
Golden Rules of Acquisitions
- Each acquisition must align with your vision and strategy.
- Focus on market transitions and technology disruptions.
- Listen to your customers in deciding which companies to target.
- Create a win-win for both companies.
- Prioritize companies and technologies that fit with your portfolio/architecture.
- Look for a cultural match.
- Maintain geographic proximity to your headquarters or operational centers.
Build Relationships for Life
Make your customers your top priority, build relationships for life.
From the first time you touch a customer, until you finish, always do what’s right for them. Put the customer first, second, and third in every decision you make.
Don’t sell them what they do not need. The money you make today will come at a high cost.
The currencies of the future for companies are (1) information/data and (2) trust. While the most valuable currencies in a customer relationship are trust and a track record.
Focus on helping customers to achieve their outcomes and not on just selling your products.
Share intelligence with your customers, and partner with them to innovate around market shifts.
Help them through a crisis, even if you did nothing to create it. When you’re at fault, move heaven and earth to fix the problem. Put your own agenda on hold and fix your mistakes. If you do, you will have a customer and partner for life.
How to Build a Winning Team
Treat employees as family. Connect with them as people and be there for them when times are tough
Analyze candidates on seven key characteristics: Past results, how well they build teams, their industry knowledge, their communications skills, their ability to play as a team, their fit with your culture, and do they put customers first.
Outline clear values and hold people accountable to them. At Cisco, that meant a commitment to change the world through technology, focus intensely on customers, innovate ahead of the market, win together, respect and care for each other, and always do the right thing.
Focus on your leadership team. Understand the qualities and skills necessary for success in each key role and be willing to shift people when the environment changes.
Share the wealth. Everyone should benefit when you grow. Give people a stake in success and share the pain when times are tough.