I don’t know Marissa Mayer. That said I’m standing with her on her need to get employees in the office, working together face to face.
I say this as the managing partner of a firm where our team works virtually most of the time.
The news stories have been overwhelmingly about infringement on empowerment. They say little about the company, except the terrible performance of recent years. Over the past week, invariably someone has asked me, “So, what do you think of Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban Yahoo! employees from working at home?” Most perspectives I’ve been hearing miss what I think is the larger point.
At Aveus we have the opportunity to listen to and work with a wide range of clients and prospects talking about operationalizing a decision they’ve already made, addressing the urgent requirements of a changing market, or introducing ideas that will change the world. The following story has elements of all three.
I learned about LifeWise Renovations and met the CEO Mike Dodd through his wife Kathy Dodd, a powerhouse in her own right as CEO of The Corridor Group. Mike has been in the construction business for more than 25 years and Kathy has built a nationwide consulting group for the home health care industry during that same time period. You will see why these two backgrounds matter in a minute.
Mike has owned a successful construction business in the Kansas City area for over 25 years. Over those years the company followed the typical construction model which tends to be very localized. As Mike explained, much of a local contractor’s business success is based upon having established networks for resources, talent, and critical market knowledge. It is very difficult to take a good construction business name in one market and transport it to another.
Compound that localized business model with the recession that hit the construction business as hard as any sector in the last few years. Mike estimates that as many as 60 – 70% of the construction businesses that were around prior to the start of the recession in 2007/8 no longer exist. And, the industry is not rebounding in the way it historically has recovered. Things are improving, but not as they have in the past.
That word: Consultant. It’s a term that’s used broadly and can mean many things. Some consultants carry the power, influence, and heft of a large organization behind them. Others are small boutique firms. Some are solo or independent practitioners. Some have been around for years, building a client portfolio. They consider consulting their profession – their vocation. Others hang out a shingle between jobs, consulting until “something better” comes along. But these characteristics are just the beginning of the distinctions among consultants. What about how they perform their practice? How they chose to interact with their clients? What separates them from one another?
Every day the news is full of stories – tragic, heroic – both. Today, this news is personal even though I am thousands of miles away from the devastation in Japan. I’m thinking about, worrying about, hoping the best for many people I know there. I met them through work. On any ‘normal’ day they are Aveus clients. People we admire, respect and enjoy working with to accomplish some business goal. Because of the nature of our work, our teams are often spread to many parts of the world and we work with clients over extended periods of time, so we form deep bonds and often stay connected, long after the work is complete.
The economy is changing. Client needs are changing. The way clients buy consulting services is changing. And yet, for many firms, the way they market their services is not.
No, I’m not talking about the post-TARP economic recovery – I’m talking about something far more basic.
We were having a shredding party at the office the other day which prompted me to clean out old files. For me, on the rare occasion that I actually sort through files, it becomes a trip down memory lane as I read and recall various documents from here and there. Why on earth did I save this? What was happening that day? Oh, remember this?!
We were recently honored at a “Best Places to Work” awards luncheon hosted by the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. Each of the winners (including Aveus) was introduced and called to the stage. As the presenters worked their way through the fifty-five (55!) winners we heard lots of reasons why employees liked to work at the winning companies.
A recent HBR article “A New Framework for Business Models” by Mark W. Johnson had me hopeful as I began reading and shaking my head as I finished. Within about two pages, Mr. Johnson falls into the very trap he’s trying to solve: presenting a ‘new business model’ framework that strikes a balance between what he calls the overly reductionist approach (citing Peter Drucker) and the overly complex (“everything-in-your-value-chain”) approach. What he presents is neither new nor very balanced.
I was hopeful for a new idea. Over my collective years of experience, first as a corporate executive and now as a consultant, I’ve often confronted this question: What is a business model? I agree with Mr. Johnson, the term gets thrown around a lot and is poorly defined and understood. Where I part with him is his approach.
The other day I was talking with a new business acquaintance who asked, “What’s the most interesting question a CEO has asked you?” I stopped to think about it. When I responded, I said, “You know, when I’m in a conversation with a CEO, I find them more often in ‘tell’ mode than ‘ask’ mode.” It bothered me when I said it, and I’ve been thinking about it since.
Today’s organizational culture drives executives to tell more and ask less. This is a pity, really, because it keeps them from some of the best business intelligence. Executives can expand their own knowledge and improve their teams’ effectiveness through a very simple tactic: asking questions.