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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Guest Post: Key Business Lessons from Chelsea’s Unexpected UEFA Champions’ League Victory

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Football (Soccer), like many sports has grand lessons for any business enterprise. This because sports teams are complicated business enterprises that are supposed to both entertain (hence are mired in all sorts of strange emotions) and make money applying skills of players with different sorts of talent yet liable to injuries that turn the fortunes of a team upside down anytime in a season.

Chelsea of England has been a great Premier League and European team since it was purchased by Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, in 2003. In seeking greatness (read, winning the Champions’ League trophy which is as prestigious as the World Cup for European club teams and global players at club level alike), many Chelsea coaches have fallen victim to this objective (the current coach is the 8th in that period, serving in an interim capacity). The dismissals have come even where other teams would have paid to be in Chelsea’s shoes (e.g. losing the final of the Champions’ League, winning the Premier League and FA Cup etc.)!

At the start of the 2011-12 season, Chelsea paid thirteen million pounds for the coach they much coveted to be released by his club Porto from his contract. This coach was brought in with two key objectives for him, transition the club into a greater club by culling the team of its older players making the team dependent on younger ones, and change the team’s playing style into an attractive one like that of Barcelona and Arsenal. In business parlance, he was the change agent to make the organization better placed to compete in the future.

The way he went about this was wanting from the start. His pronouncements in public about “this project” as he put it, especially on the old players did not help his cause. He completely antagonized those the club depended upon over many years and still had much to give, both in terms of performance and passing knowledge through their experience to the next generation. In the process, he isolated them!

His presence at Chelsea turned into unmitigated disaster given the results which placed the club out of its customary top 4 in the premier league (which comes with participation in the Champions League, thirty million pounds for competing and hence is a boost to a club’s finances, in addition to serving as an attraction for the best players in the world which guarantees staying in the upper reaches of football). He was fired in the middle of the season. Players breathed a sigh of relief on his departure.

His assistant, a former Chelsea player with minimal coaching experience at the top levels replaced him in an interim capacity. Every experienced manager, pundit, and media person at the time predicted nothing but doom for Chelsea. In addition to poor premier league performances (they ended the season 6th), Chelsea had just lost a Champions’ League game and were likely to be eliminated from the next round. The playing unit was suffering from a total lack of motivation with senior players on the team shocked by the treatment they received. In essence, the club was totally dysfunctional.

The new manager though interim seemed to turn this around. He did a number of things right. He met each player personally, and explained each one’s role he was going to play moving forward in the short period of the season remaining. He decided games were going to be played applying strategies and tactics amenable to the players available vis-à-vis the opponent. Every player young and old alike got a clean slate in competing for a place on the team. The team was going to work and fight for each other. As the media and experts continued to spell the doom awaiting Chelsea game to game, the team went about its business of winning by using the most pragmatic means necessary. In the process, they were either lucky or indeed created their own luck! The manager sought leadership from players within the playing unit. You didn’t have to be captain to lead. It was expected of you as a member of the playing unit to play that role.

In doing so, they reached the final of the Champions’ League when least expected, eliminating arguably the best team in Europe, Barcelona at the semi-final stage. The final was going to be a taller order as they were playing at the home of their opponent, Bayern Munich. All pundits deemed Chelsea a non-issue, handing Bayern the trophy before a ball was kicked. This team was arguably the worst seen at Chelsea in the last eight years, albeit the core of the playing unit having been there in the same period. Matters were made worse by the fact that four of their best players were suspended for the final. When the team won the Champions’ League trophy, players young and old stated clearly that their season was turned around when the prior manager left. Others have stated they will never forgive him for the way he treated them – such was the dysfunctional state of affairs at the club in his presence, and justifies how massive an accomplishment winning this trophy was.

What business lessons are here that we can learn from Chelsea’s success under the prevailing circumstances?  Here are a few:

1)    Recognize that job titles do not necessarily tell who your best leaders are on your team. Some team members are leaders by virtue of what they do and their influence on the rest of the team. For Chelsea these leaders were Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech (none is either captain or vice-captain on the team). They gave 100% every game, even when the team was supposed to be at its worst. They rose to the occasion in special ways each game. Identify your team members who take pride in speaking through their actions. Reward them accordingly, as you need them and they will come through for you at your hour of need!

2)    Team members who understand where the company has come from and the micro-culture within it can save a sinking ship. The interim manager, a former Chelsea player, brought the team together, with players responding due to the respect they afforded him having been in their shoes before. Do not underestimate the value that can be brought by people who have played a role in the past, especially in times of crisis. Don’t burn bridges with team members who leave, they may come in handy in the future when you most need them!

3)    Create your luck and ride it! Chelsea did so by implementing tactics to suit the players they had on the playing unit in a very disciplined and systematic fashion. Everyone in the team (manager, players, and staff) was on the proverbial same page all the way to the last and most important game of their season! They took advantage of any mistakes of omission or commission by the other team at every occasion. For this, they were crowned champs for the most prestigious trophy in Europe at club level, something they have failed having been to at least the semi-final stage six previous times when they were at their best!

4)    You are as strong as your weakest link. Clarity of purpose is essential to success even when failure is the assured result. Each member understanding their role and how their non-performance will result in sure failure for the whole is fundamental. This has to be set at the top, yet and most importantly it also has to be passed on to the team clearly. At Chelsea, the interim manager accomplished it by speaking to each player individually and ensured that each understood their role clearly as they strode toward the team’s end goal.

Let us know if you have any lessons from the most unlikely victory in the comments section.

GUEST POST: This article is a guest post to the KikScore blog from Eric Akunda who was moved to write this after he saw the victory by Chelsea and then saw the parallels to large companies, small businesses and startups!

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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

The Fabric of a True Leader – My Takeaways from the Last 5+ Years

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

As many of the readers of this blog know, my day job has been at a large web services company over the last few years.  Today is my final day of juggling the absolutely exhausting schedule of a demanding full-time day job and simultaneous full nights and weekend entrepreneur with KikScore.  I am very excited for that, however, the only major downside really is I now have to find another excuse for why I am 10 pounds overweight, have no time to work out, am balding and have those dark circles under my eyes!

The substance of this post and the story that provides that substance has been years in the making. In short, this post is about the lessons I learned from an undeniable true leader, my former boss (who also left the company this past November).  Therefore this is a very personal and important post for me for two reasons: 1) to provide a way of saying thanks to him and 2) to share with the broader community some of the incredible traits that I hope we all strive for in leadership positions that we are in or may be in one day.  My tribute to him will only really be complete if I can embody and carry many of these same traits to KikScore and beyond in my career and not end up like the guy from the CareerBuilder ad (great song by the way from one of my all time favorite commercials)!

Instead of a long story, the best way to convey to readers what I experienced and learned first hand is by sharing the traits that he repeatedly demonstrated in his daily work and interactions with our team, management, board of directors, third parties, employees throughout the organization and even adversaries trying to sue the company.   The traits broadly broke down into four main areas:

1) Personality;

2) Management;

3) Strategy; and

4) Interaction with Others.

Just for some important context, I saw these traits and actions of this leader over the backdrop of more than 5 years, 4 different management teams (including 4 different CEOs) and 3 different owners that included two separate private equity firms.  His approach to leadership and managing his team instilled a tremendous amount of loyalty not just with me, but throughout the entire organization and especially with his ability to successfully manage through external crisis scenarios and heavy media scrutiny.  A testament to that is over the last few years there was not one person that had the overall and nearly universal respect of the multiple management teams, middle level management and employee base as well as scores of people outside of the company (even competitors too!) and in the community that consistently and repeatedly recognized and often commented on how phenomenal of a leader and person my former boss is.  The funny thing is I honestly think there are probably more than 20 people today across many of these organizations around the world that would write this very same post I am writing about him because our experiences with him have been so similar.

So based on my last 5+ years, the fabric of a true leader can best be described the following way:

A Leader’s Personality Matters

1) Be the person that sets the example and the standard for others

2) Remain calm during a crisis and when others are in various states of panic because that calmness helps everyone make better decisions

3) Keep everything in perspective, even when going through ups and downs as a company and team

4) Stick up for those people who do not have a voice, they will repay you with loyalty and even harder work

5) Be courageous and have the conviction to present a different opinion (just make sure to back it up with data and facts)

6) Steer clear of the politics for a decision and focus instead on what is the right decision for the business

7) Take the time to laugh and enjoy the moment – laughter can often diffuse the inevitable tense meetings and events that we all experience

A Leader Helps Create and Implement a Strategy

8 Work to create an overall mission/strategy that defines the role for yourself and the people you manage

9) Remain flexible and open minded in the tasks and roadmap needed to execute on the strategy

10) Always game plan so you think two and three steps ahead of decisions/actions taken so a team can adequately anticipate possible outcomes

11) Relentlessly focus on customers and employees for the overall strategy and the decisions that are made in executing on that strategy

A Leader Manages with Common Sense

12) Know the role that you have as the leader of a team and focus on consistently delivering in that role

13) As you manage and lead your team, work to ensure that the team clearly understands the strategy and mission that is to be accomplished and their individual roles in achieving the mission

14) Ask lots of questions, but do not second guess subject matter experts by replacing their recommendations with your own gut feelings

15) Learn to deflect praise to the team and team members

16) Actively promote the careers of deserving team members even if they end up having to leave your team

17) Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more with your team

A Leader Makes a World of Difference to Others Through Their Interactions

18) Set your own high standard for interacting with others and make sure you do not get drawn into reacting to other people’s behavior and negativity

19) Avoid unnecessary escalations where you need to “go over someone’s head” and instead give people the benefit of the doubt

20) Take the extra time to remove the attitude from communication and email – the attitude almost always is counterproductive to everyone involved

21) When in doubt, have a face to face conversation instead of trying resolve items over email, that hardly works

22) Be respectful of others’ workloads even when you are much busier than they are

23) Focus on the person that is talking to you, do not multitask and look at your email when they are asking you questions or talking to you

24) Encourage learning from failure and mistakes instead of pointing fingers

I could probably go on and on, especially with more than 5 years of material but then I would lose probably even more readers than I already have with this long post.  Ultimately, a person is perceived and recognized as a leader for a number of reasons often due to their own merit or in some instances just due to association with certain people in an organization.  This post is about laying out the path to do it on your own merit because that is what I saw first hand for the last few years with my former boss. I am forever better off for being part of a team that had a one of a kind leader that taught me (and many others on our team and beyond): that leaders succeed by standing up for a core set of values, working exceptionally hard, taking care of their people, and caring deeply about customers and fellow teammates.

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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Leave No Business Behind: Pearls of Wisdom for Every Startup & SmallBiz

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

A few years ago we were just a couple of entrepreneurs with an idea that we felt could solve a pressing issue for small businesses.  No one really knew us and in many ways no one should have known us then since we were just starting out. Thus we had little to no street credibility.

There is a funny thing that happens as time passes (besides me longing for those care-free college days where the toughest decision was Burger King, KFC or pizza for dinner tonight?).  As the clock ticks away you gain valuable experience and insight about life, growing a startup business, the team and people around you, the market, trends, dealing with your customers and partners and for us building a product that enables small businesses to show that they are trustworthy and credible.  The experience translates into knowledge.  Therefore we continually make it a priority for our team to share with the small business community the knowledge we have gained through ups and down, good times and challenges and those inevitable growing pains all businesses must endure.  It is our way of helping the startups, small businesses and the greater community. That is frankly one of the reasons we interview our own customers so they can provide their knowledge to all of us.

So we just wanted to take the time to highlight some of our knowledge sharing we have recently done. This has been through blogs posts on some really great small business focused sites.  We, at KikScore, were very excited to be invited to provide guest posts at two fabulous and prestigious SMB focused blogs.  First is Ivana Taylor’s awesome DIY Marketers Blog.  Ivana is such a force and inspiration for small businesses (though I have to ignore she is a Steelers fan! See earlier post on my feeling toward “those fans.”).  We were truly honored to be invited to contribute to her fast growing blog. Ivana by the way has some great things launching for 2012 so please be on the look out for them.  The second is the majorly popular and growing .CO Blog called Go.CO.  Again being specifically recruited and asked to contribute to this fantastic blog has been an honor.  So we keep working hard to contribute KikScore’s thought leadership on small businesses, operating a startup, setting, creating and managing strategy and also steps to effectively market your business.

Here are links to some of the posts if you would like to check them out:

1. Are you looking for ways to use videos in your startup or small business, if so check out  5 Types of Marketing Videos Every Small Business Should Use.

2. We each face the challenge of how do we build a brand with all of the “noise” out there, here are 4 Steps to Developing a Small Business Brand.

3. Wondering how to show website visitors you are trustworthy and credible check out The Online Trust Issue – Tips to Find the Right Trust Seal for Your Small Business.

4. As we get rolling into 2012, take a step back and review these 5 Steps to Make 2012 Your Best Year for Your Business By Learning From 2011.

5. If you are looking for a path to acquiring and maintaining loyal customers here are 6 Ways to Make Better Connections with Your Customers By Paying More Attention.

6. We are living in a LinkedIn world now so make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity to use your connections with these  Steps to Use Your Professional Network to Grow Your Business.

7. A lot of small businesses and startups just want to stick their heads in the weeds and get things done, but every business needs to take a look at these Business Strategy Tips for Small Business Owners.

8. As we all look inward at our own startups and small businesses and how we manage our teams, we can use these 5 Skills & Traits Every Entrepreneur Should Nurture for Success.

9. With everything that is on our plates for our respective businesses here are some important Steps on How to Cut Distractions & Focus More On Achieving Your Business Goals.

Well we have had quite an active few months blogging on these great small business sites.  Many thanks to each of the sites for having us and we look forward to providing more guidance on a range of items in the future.

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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Taking the Internet Back for the People: The Government’s Plan for Internet Security

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Not too long ago, the U.S. federal government finalized their National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). Although acronyms tend to make everything sound overly-official, this isn’t some new set of laws. Instead, this ‘strategy’ is more of an attempt to improve internet safety. NSTIC aims to make the internet a better place for everyone to store and use their personal information. Sounds kind of impossible, right? If this was some sort of strictly government attempt, it probably would be. However, NSTIC asks for the participation of businesses and consumers alike, actually giving it a pretty good shot.

What’s the Strategy?

As explained in more detail here and here, NSTIC is focused on three main issues:

  • Identity – Anyone who uses the internet probably has a jumble of user names and passwords. Attempting to foster an “identity ecosystem,” NSTIC aims to simplify this issue by having users deal with only a select few identities from trustworthy sources.
  • Privacy – Whenever we sign up or buy something online, we give out tons of personal information. The plan regarding NSTIC is very much on a ‘need to know’ basis. Under this, only necessary personal information will be shared with the interacting group; no more, no less.
  • Security – If we have less accounts to create, then we can actually create them distinctively. After all, how many people use the same user names and passwords across multiple accounts? In short, a lot! This makes online theft too easy. Hopefully, this proposed ecosystem will eliminate that.

In the end, it’s best to look at NSTIC as more of a reform than another government headache. It aims to create a more tightly knit hold on the online sharing of personal information.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Sorry to upset you, but no one in particular. As I said earlier, NSTIC isn’t a law; it’s a recommendation. It calls upon all of us to do our part in improving our security online. I’m sure we all love to complain about incidents such as Sony’s Playstation Network being hacked. However, are there any particular networks or sites where we are 100% safe of theft? Businesses need to keep client information private, but we can’t just use easily accessible usernames and passwords with the expectation that they will take care of the rest.

NSTIC wants to fix these problems by making the online process simpler, and it wants everyone’s participation. If you really want to be cheesy about it, NSTIC has a ‘think of the children’ kind of feel. The process isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a grand scale issue that will probably take decades or even generations. And yet, even in spite of its inevitably gradual process, isn’t there no time like the present to get started?

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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

What We Can All Learn From the US Soccer Team's Success in the World Cup

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Most of the country is still talking about the US’s last minute victory against Algeria on Wednesday (well except for New York who just cant quit Lebron James).  I have watched a lot of sports in my life – so much that it drives my parents and my wife crazy- but that game may have been one of the most exciting sports moment that I have ever experienced.  Then again the bar is not that high for me since I am a Cleveland sports fan.  I digress.  Wednesday’s match was so big that there are reports that the game set all sorts of internet traffic records and it brought Twitter to its knees right after Landon Donovan knocked in the game winner in the 91st minute of the game.

Now the US team that came into the World Cup was criticized and heavily scrutinized for a number of reasons.  People said that the team had not jelled, there was questions about the leadership potential of key veterans, this was the coach’s first time to the World Cup and parts of the team were huge question marks like the entire defensive unit.  So you can say there were lots of concerns and doubts about this US team.  So what did this team go on to accomplish over the last few weeks:  merely going undefeated in their group play that included the mighty English team, clawing back from dead after being behind from a nearly insurmountable 2-0 deficit to Slovenia, overcoming a terrible blown call that should have given them a monumental and historic victory against Slovenia and then finally winning their group after coming back from yet another blown call against Algeria when they scored in the final minutes of the soccer match of the century (at least for us Americans and our fans!).

The US team has a long way to go as they have just reached the “knock-out round.”  Nevertheless, there are so many lessons learned from this team and the group of US players that are applicable to business, startups and life in general.  These lessons are born out of how the US team played, were coached, executed their game plans and relentlessly played each game.  Here are a few that come to mind.

1) Have a Strategy

2) Make Sure that Strategy is Flexible

3) Put Yourself & Your Team Members in the Right Positions to Succeed

4) When Needed, Substitute in Team Members to Help Drive Change in the Strategy

5) At All Times, Make Sure Your Leaders are in a Position to Create Opportunities

6) When You Get Behind, Be Super Resilient and Do Not Lose Faith

7) Even if You Initially Fail, Keep Trying and Taking Chances (i.e. keep shooting the ball!)

8.  Move On & Keep Pushing Ahead Because Some Calls Do Not Go Your Way

9. Trust in Your Teammates

10. Always Play with the Passion Like Its Your Last Game

11. Even After a Big Win, Get Up & Get Ready for the Next Game

Now on the other side of the spectrum of the US soccer team is our friends in France.  Their World Cup was a widely publicized disaster.  The French team literally did the opposite of everything on the above list and were the antithesis of the US team in that they had serious infighting, their coach and players got into fights, they played with no energy and were a bunch of selfish malcontents that went out of the tournament in grand fashion with loss to the much lower rated host country South Africa.  Their follies could be the subject of an entirely separate post on more lessons learned, but I point out the French team’s approach just to draw the contrast of what is also possible on the other side of the pitch.

So as you watch the rest of the World Cup (and especially tomorrow for the US v Ghana match)- see what other lessons you learn.  Now that the “knock out” stage has started, the stakes will be higher and I am sure we will be able to learn a few things about leadership, strategy and team execution when teams, players and coaches are under far greater pressure than the first round games.

Please tell us what did you learn from the first round games?

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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Diary of a Startup: The Value of Building Your Company's Rolodex

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Last week was a very busy week at KikScore. We had meetings all over the place on many different fronts. We had lunch meetings, phone calls, various team meetings, checkins with partners, drinks with some of our favorite corporate development friends and meetings with friends and colleagues that also double as advisors. On the way back from one of our last meetings, my partner Mike and I were debriefing on all of the meetings we had just completed. Then it dawned on us that nearly every one of these meetings came from a team member of KikScore, a friend of friend, colleagues from previous and current jobs and folks that KikScore team members have done business in the past.

Over time and especially at the inception of a startup (and small businesses too), a company’s contacts and rolodex can immensely help the strategic direction of a company. That is why we all hear from so many people that we should all on a regular basis network and get out and meet people. But I would say even more importantly, there are probably many people that lie dormant in an entrepreneur’s contacts that the entrepreneur met many moons ago. These “hidden rolodex gems” should not be forgotten.

Entrepreneurs and owners of small business should be proactive in maintaining and cultivating these forgotten contacts. I will be the first to admit that I have not been great at cultivating some of these gems. But one of my mentors once said the easiest way to engage these buried contacts, is just pick up the phone and call them or send them an email. What do you really have to lose? Now in your re-introduction call or email to these folks, make it clear to them that you are not looking for a job or something and instead are looking to chat and get some guidance. You will be amazed at the responsiveness that you may get.

Here are just some of the ways our contacts have helped KikScore and could help your startup (and small business):

1. Providing great feedback on our business model;

2. Ideas for new channels to pursue;

3. Ideas on potential new enhancements to our product;

4. Introduction to partners; and

5. Referrals to other advisors and thought leaders.

As you grow you company’s contact list, return the favor to people that contact you looking for guidance and counseling. Pay It Forward so you do not look like your company is only looking out for itself. And you never know when someone asks you for guidance, it may end up helping your company like it has with us at KikScore.

Please tell us how you develop your company’s rolodex.

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