Red Zebra Business Centre -Management Memos
July 2010. Making Measurably More For Your Business Since 1985!


After 25 years, The Future Looks Bright! 

Max Williams, Principal Consultant

This week, 25 years ago, saw me launch out on one of the most daunting of journeys. I started working as a self employed person. Now, a quarter of a century later, the journey seems to have taken four lifetimes.

It has been a fascinating, and at times demanding experience. In this editorial, and for this month only, I want to write about some of my impressions of the small business world. I'd like to share some of my, and our, experiences as we have travelled across those 25 years.

Writing here about those experiences is itself troubling, because it might be interpreted as self serving, where the real goal is to encourage readers to struggle, persevere, and finally come out on top in the pursuit of their dreams.

First.Communication is vital, and terribly hard to get right. I don't know of any other business topic that gets more airplay than "communication". We are guilty of blaming "the power of other" - that is that we are all affected by things outside our control. In communicating with others, we are inclined to see problems all as "they should have put it better".

By way of contrast at least half of the communication problems come from not listening (or reading) properly. So, when next you find something obscure, unintelligible, or offensive, go back and see if there is some way you could have listened, or read, and interpreted more constructively.

Second. - Ego is one of our greatest handicaps! There is an endless list of anecdotes of situations where ego has got right in the way of progress for our clients. Just in the last few days we have heard the latest chapter in the story of a client who was strongly advised not to go down a particular path. We gave that advice because the financial risk was simply far too great, and he sacked us because we were, in his terms, too negative.

According to the latest information, he has now stopped trading, and stands to lose everything.

Similarly, stories abound of clients who are so fixated on with they have achieved so far, they won't see the problems coming at them, and so ignore our advice. That's the real point. They will not see!

Ego appears in phrases like "I know what I want in an employee", "My prices are pretty right", "I went ahead and signed that agreement", and so on. An independent fix on the truth can avoid (and has avoided) a lot of disasters!

Third - The fear of the unknown. Every business develops its own routines. Establishes its own rhythms. As time goes by, this can develop into the recognizable "pulse" of a healthy, thriving enterprise that's breaking new frontiers and growing strongly.

Too often, though, it settles into a 'comfort zone'.

Examples?  Principals want to "sack distributors" where things look like they're not working, instead of developing a dynamic distributor network. Or, traders want to blame their suppliers for a lack of competitive edge, even change suppliers, instead of changing the way they and their staff function day to day.

Changing to a lower cost source is simple, straightforward, and clear cut. "We won't have to change what we do, a different supplier will do it for it for us."

Of course. But what is the next move once you've gone downmarket? How far down can you go? Changing what you do in the business is much more challenging and less clear cut, but it produces more profit over a longer time.

Being afraid of the unknown is like swimming in a raincoat to stop getting wet! Especially when there is a consultant who can help you navigate those unknown waters. Just because they are unknown to you, does not mean those waters are uncharted!

We count ourselves lucky of have a loyal band of clients who, in the main, have avoided these pitfalls.

We hope 'McNicol Williams and My Red Zebra' can keep helping them, and you, for many years to come!

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Silver Anniversary


t's our Silver Anniversary, and it's time for celebration and reflection. Over that time, McNicol Williams Management & Marketing Services has provided a stunningly wide range of services to corporate clients, and to government clients at local, state, and federal levels. Since 1996, My Red Zebra has also delivered advice, support, and helping services to small businesses across Australia. Next? We'll keep on keeping on!

Aim for Greatness - After all, it is a Great Time!

This is the time for positive sentiment! That's 'survey-speak' for "Things are really looking up!" Perhaps the greatest concern right now is increasing interest rates, perhaps followed by a worry over the disruption of an election!

So it must be a good time to grow! Having said that there are a number of lessons to be learnt from recent times in what works, and what creates sustainability. It's also a great time to look at what is likely not to last.

Bo Burlingham, an editor of 'Inc'. magazine wrote a book called "Small Giants - Companies that chose to be Great Instead of Big". What's interesting about this book, and the companies in it, is that these company's leaders chose to be great instead of big! Mostly, these companies are small, yet most are hugely profitable. On top of that, they're great places to work.

There are a number of striking similarities between these companies:

The founders recognise the range of choices available - In most cases they rejected the standard options. They innovated new possibilities and resisted forces that would have them comply with popular beliefs. In every case they carefully chose their market and how many, and what type of customers to take on.

They overcame pressure to take the normal growth path - Rather than growth just for the sake of it, they decided to control growth every step of the way. They often rejected investors and 'money partners'. Most importantly they worked to build the type of community they want to live in, but inside their own companies.

They cultivate exceptional business relationships - Like Jay Abraham's concept of 'Pre-eminence', these leaders developed partnerships with employees, customers and suppliers. By working together in a type of committed partnership, they create a sense of community and common purpose among their entire network. doing this isn't easy - but they all achieved a genuine mutual concern for each other's success.

They create intimate workplaces - In other words, they treat their employees as human beings and address their needs. In return they earn loyalty and superior performance. Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines calls this "employees who feel cared for in the totality of their lives" - treating people with respect, dignity, kindness, and generosity. They have a better life for having been part of that company.

They implement a new-age organisation - They develop creative management systems as well as educational programs that teach 'the company way'. They teach about service as well as leadership. They choose to reject archaic 'Command and Control' management processes in favour of more innovative, 21st century methods.

The leaders keep a passion for their business - They have a passion for their products and services, and what they do in the market. They are not typical professional managers, instead they create and maintain deep emotional attachments to their business, and especially to their people - the employees, customers and suppliers.

These companies have no strikingly different products or services, nor were they necessarily founded in boom times. The owners are not really gifted, nor do they have specialised education or knowledge. They did, however, do two things really well:

  • Develop and nurture their greatest asset being their people, and,
  • They designed and executed their strategy to move forward in a controlled way that maximised profitability

Extraordinary organisations achieve sustainable growth and success. So, isn't now a good time to Aim for Greatness?

It's a Red Letter Day.

And It's Your Party!


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