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The 5 C’s That Can Help Businesses Ride Out Tough Times

business

The 5 C’s That Can Help Businesses Ride Out Tough Times

With corporate CFOs expressing worries that 2020 could bring a recession, businesses small and large know they need to hope for the best and brace for the worst.

But, as important as business savvy and financial expertise can be in riding out difficult times, other traits also come into play and maybe just as essential, says Marsha Friedman, a successful entrepreneur who still leads a business she launched three decades ago.

“One of those essential traits is courage,” says Friedman, founder and president of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), a national PR firm.

“Thirty years ago when I started my company, I probably would never have said it takes courage to lead a small business, but without it, I assure you, you’ll fail.”

Friedman, who is also the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, understands this first-hand. Her firm, like many businesses, endured tough economic times after the 9/11 attacks. Revenue dropped and bankruptcy loomed as a real possibility.

“I had to figure out how to turn my company around,” she says. “It took courage, endurance, and perseverance, but I knew I could not go back, so I had no choice but to go forward.”

Courage is just one of what Friedman calls the 5 C’s for building and maintaining a successful business.

“They’re the guiding principles I’ve learned through the ups and downs and all the mistakes,” she says.

In addition to courage, Friedman’s other C’s are:

Caring. First, care enough about yourself and your dreams to believe you can achieve success, Friedman says. “Just as important is caring about your staff and creating a positive work environment for them,” she says. “Be supportive when stressful situations arise in their lives.” Finally, a good business leader cares about customers, Friedman says. Be willing to listen to their concerns, take responsibility for mistakes, and correct them.

Confidence. Most people have faced and overcome challenges in life. The confidence that allowed them to prevail over those challenges needs to be brought into play in business, Friedman says. “Believing you can reach for and achieve your short-term and long-term goals is essential to getting you there,” she says.

Competence. It’s critical to stay up on the trends and disruptions in your industry. “But you need to recognize your limitations, and you shouldn’t take on jobs within your company for which you’re not qualified,” Friedman says. “You’ll make yourself miserable and your business will suffer.” So, she says, hire an accountant to handle the financials. Get marketing help if that’s not your thing. Hire competent people who you will trust in their jobs – and then trust them.

Commitment. Stay dedicated to your goals no matter how difficult that becomes. Friedman says there are times when this will be not only difficult but downright painful. That was the case for her during those tough times after the 9/11 attacks. “I had to make drastic cuts, including letting go of beloved employees,” she says. “For more than a year, I ramped up marketing efforts, diversified our services, and took other steps to get the business out of the red. In 2005, I succeeded – and it has been upward and onward ever since.”

“If you’ve recently launched a new business, know that you’ll encounter challenges, but don’t panic,” Friedman says. “When times get tough, if you rely on the C’s as a sort of compass, you can guide the business back to smoother waters.”

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Marsha Friedman, author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, is a businesswoman and public relations expert with nearly 30 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations and professionals in the field of business, health and finance.  Using the proprietary system she created as founder and President of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), an award-winning national public relations agency, she secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for her clients.  The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Marsha is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies, who shares her knowledge both as a popular speaker around the country and in her Amazon best-selling book, Celebritize Yourself.

military

Looking to Hire a Top-Notch Executive? Think Retired Military.

Anyone responsible for guiding a large corporation should be actively recruiting retired military officers. And here’s why.

Commanders are proven leaders. They’ve typically mastered the interlocking skills of how to resource, equip, and train an increasingly large number of troops for combat. Lieutenants start out guiding a platoon of 40 soldiers. Next comes leadership of a company, equaling four or more platoons. The units keep combining, and the number of troops keeps growing.

At the top, the numbers are staggering. For instance, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1993-97), Gen. John Shalikashvili sat atop all branches of the U.S. military, then totaling 1.7 million active-duty personnel. As SACEUR, the military head of NATO (1992-1993), he directed a mind-boggling 2 million troops, 2,300 tanks and 5,200 warplanes from 16 countries.

What enables leadership at that level? Using Shalikashvili’s career as an example reveals a wide range of skills in high demand at any Fortune 500 company.

For one, military leaders dedicate their careers to learning how to master complexity. For artillery officers like Shalikashvili, this includes keeping track of an eyebrow-raising number of variables—like powder temperature and projectile weight; compensation for tube wear, the effects of nonstandard weather conditions, and even the earth’s rotation; the resupply of ammunition, fuel, and rations; as well as working together in support of other combat units.

Yet leadership requires the ability to simplify complex tasks, which the military often does by setting standards and communicating them clearly to others. These skills are especially prevalent in the Army. As the largest service branch, its core strength lies in putting boots on the ground. It’s also the most diverse—in terms of education level, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. And on average it has the youngest, and thus least experienced, members.

The gravity of the warfighting trade also engenders the skill of precision. For example, fielding nuclear weapons, Shalikashvili’s focus particularly during his early career, requires constant vigilance, setting rigorous standards, and enforcing strict discipline. One crisis, one accident, or even one failed inspection has typically resulted in commanders all along the chain of command being relieved from duty. “In the field of tactical nuclear weapons,” explained Lieutenant General “Dutch” Shoffner, once the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, “when you ask an important question you expect a specific answer. And people trained this way take that attitude into other areas of their professional life.”

The military also often affords officers the opportunity for creative leadership. As the two-star commander of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis in 1987, Shalikashvili oversaw a “high technology test bed” tasked to integrate three brigades—one heavy armor, one light infantry, and one “experimental mechanized”—into a new type of fighting force. This meant designing a division over 10,000 soldiers, building the actual organization, designing and procuring equipment, and both creating a corresponding doctrine and training soldiers how to fight under it.

And finally, while the Patton leadership style is popularized in movies, it is far from the norm. “You can’t be a designer of confrontation within the U.S. military,” noted Jack Walker, once the youngest general officer in the U.S. Army, “It just won’t work.”

The best officers use their power sparingly. “The strongest people don’t need confrontation or anger—but [instead they] know their stuff, their position, and when necessary will not budge,” notes former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who worked closely with Shalikashvili in the 90s. “Confrontation leaves scars—which over a long-term relationship can leave scar tissue that gets in the way. Shalikashvili did things in a way that people don’t have to lose. He created goodwill.” Walker agreed: “Shali wouldn’t get too strong … until it was really necessary.”

Putting all these diverse skills together can result in astonishing leadership ability. Take Shalikashvili’s command of Operation Provide Comfort. In the aftermath of Gulf War I, some half a million Kurds became trapped along the deadly mountain border between Iraq and Turkey, with 1,000 refugees dying per day. It was an unprecedented crisis, and it created an unprecedented response: Without any pre-existing agreements to provide institutional structure, over 35,000 soldiers from 13 countries and volunteers from over 50 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) came together—many of whom had never worked together and even had outright distrust of each other.

Under Shalikashvili’s leadership, in a mere 90 days, the task force was able to first stop the dying and then managed to move the Kurds peacefully back into Iraq. No wonder Chief of Staff of the Army General Gordon Sullivan would later liken Shalikashvili to the great jazz improvisational artist Dave Brubeck: highly trained in the classical approach but able to operate successfully, almost magically, in new conceptual territory.

In sum, retired military officers offer a wide array of leadership skills—including, but not limited to, understanding complexity, setting and communicating standards, precision, and creativity. Recruiting among their ranks is a low-risk, high-reward approach to injecting experienced leadership into the upper ranks of any large organization.

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Andrew Marble is author of  Boy on the Bridge: The Story of John Shalikashvili’s American Success (University Press of Kentucky), the first-ever biography of Gen. John Shalikashvili. Marble has a PhD in political science from Brown University, an MA in law and diplomacy from Tufts University’s Fletcher School and a BA in East Asian studies from Middlebury College. Heis outreach editor for the Taiwan Journal of Democracy and a reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. For more information, visit andrewmarble.com.

digital

3 Guiding Principles for Digital Transformation Success

Many companies have adopted digital technology to transform their business. But the transition can be a challenging process, and studies show that digital transformation projects often fail to reach company expectations.
This happens for a variety of reasons, says J. Eduardo Campos, co-founder with his wife, Erica, of Embedded-Knowledge Inc. (www.embedded-knowledge.com) and co-author with her of From Problem Solving to Solution Design: Turning Ideas into Actions.
“It’s often due to ineffective communication between the IT department and business teams,” Campos says. “But overall it really comes down to an inability to problem-solve and a tendency to lose sight of teamwork and the big-picture business plan.
“To have a successful digital transformation depends greatly on employees working together, but too many organizations are siloed, thus hampering the communication and creating obstacles in the process.”
Campos offers three ways company leaders can deal with problems in digital transformation:
Define the essential problem. Campos says digital transformational programs fail when company leaders don’t grasp the root of the problem they hope digital transformation will solve. “Beware of solving the symptoms instead of the problem,” Campos says. “To define the essential problem, you first need to step back, reflect, and clearly define what you are trying to address. Detaching yourself from a problem and trying to see it from a different perspective, you then will have a better view of how things interact with each other. There are often multiple layers to why a problem exists, so ask a series of whys that drill down to the answer.”
Design solutions. Once the problem is identified, setting goals and assessing options come next. ”It’s not unusual to find yourself in a situation where the problems you identified are part of a dynamic environment, affected by constant changes that require you to revisit your goals and options regularly,” Campos says. “This is where technology and software can be very helpful in making sure everything is being tracked appropriately without any information getting lost. in addition to technology, using risk management concepts can be a very effective way to help keep consistency throughout the solution design process.”
Engage stakeholders. Digital transformation often represents a massive change for personnel. Campos says it’s vital for the decision-makers to craft a stakeholder engagement plan that addresses all aspects of a recommended solution. “Clearly identify whom will be impacted by the solution, either positively or negatively, and how to handle stakeholder reactions,” Campos says. “You want them to be willing to commit to your recommendation because they indeed want it, not because you are selling it to them. And when you are influencing the decision-making process, be sure to show your stakeholders your appreciation of varying opinions.”
“Achieving success in digital transformation brings together people, process, and technology,” Campos says. “Many businesses never get far past the launch point of their digital transformation because that triad of people, process and technology isn’t in sync, and problems that could have been solved were not.”
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J. Eduardo Campos is co-author with his wife, Erica, of From Problem Solving to Solution Design: Turning Ideas into Actions. Campos spent 13 years at Microsoft, first as a cybersecurity advisor, then leading innovative projects at the highest levels of government in the U.S. and abroad.  His consulting firm, Embedded Knowledge Inc. (www.embedded-knowledge.com), works with organizations and entrepreneurs developing customized business strategies and forming partnerships focused on designing creative solutions to complex problems.