Thursday, 5 November 2009

Notes from "Managing & Leading Through Challenging Times" - part 2 of 4

Part 2 of my notes from this year's Chartered Management Institute Conference covering talks by Rita Clifton and Brent Hoberman.  In part 1 I talked about the adresses from Sir David Howard and Ruth Spellman.

Rita Clifton is the Chariman of Interbrand and was the first of the non CMI speakers to take to the stage.   Her topic was "How to build a world class brand".

She starting out by talking about the importance of a good brand and to help convince us of this told us that Warren Buffet's investment criteria include (in increasing order of importance) a good balance sheet, the management team and the brand. (Note - since attending the conference I happened to see a TV programme on Warren Buffet and they also listed that in order for them to invest the business needed to be something they could understand and to have a sustainable competitive advantage)

She referred disparagingly to companies that were just interested in "logslogs" ie logos and slogans and not in understanding what the brand stood for and ensuring that the brand promise is delivered consistently across the organisation.  If your brand is all about excellent customer service it would be a good idea to make sure this is communicated to the people who answer the phones.  Ultimately, what makes brands work isn't the visible bit.

She offered a definition that I liked ..."A brand is a central organising principle, symbolized in a trade mark, which if used correctly creates value".

She noted that of the top 100 brands ("by value" but I'm not sure how that is assessed) 8 come from France, 11 from Germany, America racks up 51 but UK only manages 4.  ( During Q&A someone asked which ones they were and they are ... BP, HSBC, Smirnoff and Burberry).

As an IBM employee it was nice to see us get a mention as the second most valuable brand.  Significant risers up the league table in 2009 include Google, Amazon and Zara.  Fallers included Morgan Stanley, Amex, Citi, UBS (spotted a pattern yet?) and Harley Davidson.

Made the interesting comment that one of the banks that has survived better than most is Goldman Sachs which has a clear brand and she said was also the one that had Warren Buffet as an investor.

For the final part of her talk she turned to the question of how we could think of ourselves as a brand.  To do this successfully we need to get clarity of what we stand for and how this makes us different.  Next we need to ensure that we are consistent across everything that we do - internal has to match how we portray ourselves externally.  This is an interesting comment as I am sure that many people see themselves as different in their work environment to how they behave at home/with friends.  With the increased emergence of social networking sites that bring together people from different aspects of our lives into one "place" I think this issue of behaving with consistency and integrity will become more important.

After a break for coffee we had Brent Hoberman - co-founder of talk about Entrepreneurship and innovation in difficult times.  The original programme had listed Martha Lane Fox but she had been called away elsewhere.  Intriguingly the switch had happened early enough that the printed programme showed Brent as the speaker but the website still showed (and indeed still shows) Martha.

The talk was more a series of interesting thoughts than a narrative flow and some of the bits that jumped out for me were....

Don't over intellectualise - if in advance they had known how hard it was going to be to get running they could well have argued themselves into not doing it.  Sometimes you've got to "jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down."

React as circumstance change ( a theme that was also called out by Lord Bilimoria later in the day) - He would receive basic sales data updates every 15 minutes and more detailed info every hour !  Key thing is that whilst reports are good what matters is how you react to the data.

Make each mistake once

Take decisions quickly - if you get it wrong you can change (see reacting as circumstances change...) very easy to not spot the potentially huge cost of failing to take a decision

Understand and communicate the behaviours you want from your employees

Put your smartest technical folks on the most boring and repetitive tasks - they will find ways to automate them away.

Be courageous - say what you think, take smart risks, question decisions that are inconsistent with company's values.

Constantly recruit the smartest people - means you can run company less formally, in buzz word speak .. "increase the talent density".

If you find that the company / department/ ... can only manage to handle 3 things at once don't restrict what you do to 3 but rather figure out what the inhibitors are that are stopping you from getting on with 20 things ar a time.

Keep changing ... as Benjamin Franklin put it "When you're finished changing, you're finished."

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