Strategy/ops

Ravi Mattu

Today’s news that Google has released a list of governments that seek to censor its servcies or request personal information on users feels like the latest step in the company’s effort to rebuild a reputation that has had some sticky moments in recent weeks and months.

The company’s corporate motto – “Do no evil” – has been used by some as an ethical stick with which to beat it as it moved into China and agreed to self-censor its searches. And its disastrous launch of Buzz, its social networking service, met with much resistance from its community of users and, more recently, privacy regulators.

It was all a bit surprising. In the past few decades, few companies have demonstrated (shaped?) a better understanding of the changing nature of consumer behaviour than Google. So, what happened?

Ravi Mattu

Tim Armstrong, CEO of Aol, has got himself into a bit of bother with his staff. Last Tuesday, at a breakfast meeting with Wolf Olins, he criticised his company’s efforts covering the SxSW festival in Austin and, in particular, the quality of work of his staff.

Apparently, he quickly backtracked – not by renouncing what he said but by declaring in an open meeting with staff that he should have made the point directly to them instead of to an external company. He stood by his assertion that the company’s work was not up to snuff.

Was this the right move?

Ravi Mattu

Want to figure out how pirates think? Well, apparently the UN has gone some way to figuring it out by deciphering their business model.

Hat tip: The Browser

Ravi Mattu

Last week, Jason Hirschhorn and Mike Jones, the new co-chief executives of MySpace, gave their first interview since taking over from Owen Van Natta. They are the second duo to gain some prominence in recent weeks. Last month, SAP, the technology company, announced its own double-headed form by appointing co-chief executives to replace a single one.

Schumpeter, the management columnist at The Economist, made the point that last week that such a model works much better in technology companies where there is a definable split between the innovation and technology functions and the sales and marketing role.

Today’s Judgment Call, the SAP heads, an academic and a PR guru all weigh in on how it can be made to work – and how it can easily go awry.

Ravi Mattu

Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay who is now running for the Republican nomination for governor of California, is having problems with the press. It still amazes me that senior figures in business and, now politics, can’t figure out how to deal with the media. But then, I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Ravi Mattu

John Lewis, the UK department store that also owns supermarket chain Waitrose, has reported annual pre-tax profits of £306.6m. I wouldn’t normally write about profit margins on this blog but John Lewis is unusual in that it is a high street brand that has done relatively well in the downturn despite being a relatively pricey option.

John Lewis is notable because its employees own the company, and partly because of that, the customer service is miles better than many of its competitors. These employees will share £151m bonus. More than that, as my colleague Michael Skapinker wrote earlier this year, it has made this ownership model work where others such as United Airlines have failed.

Ravi Mattu

An interesting set of videos over on trendwatching.com, a pretty interesting Amsterdam-based company that does what their name suggests.

The video below, “The next big thing” is particularly interesting in revealing just how quickly technology has changed the way we think, communicate and, ultimately, do business. Just over half a minute in, check out the responses to the question: “How often do you Twitter?”

Some interesting insights on branding too. Maybe it’s not as powerful as we think it is?

Stefan Stern

So, the replacement CEO at General Motors, Fritz Henderson, has himself now been ousted. If we all purchased new vehicles as often as GM has replaced CEOs in recent months the auto industry would have a lot less to worry about.

Continuity and change: this is the trade-off which leaders have to manage. Clearly at the moment GM needs more of the latter than the former. But we risk over-emphasising the impact a single leader can have. Change has to be brought about by the leadership team and by senior management generally. It is not just down to one person. Knifing a CEO gives us a story to gossip about but does not change the fundamental challenge at the company.

After Mr Henderson’s decision to sell GM’s Opel subsidiary was reversed by his board he was probably doomed. But his fellow board members would be mistaken in believing that they will rapidly make things better by putting a new person in at the top. The challenge remains the same. Difficult decisions still have to be made. There are no quick personnel-related fixes available.

Paradoxically, bringing about successful change means understanding the value of continuity.

Stefan Stern

Is strategy dead? Chief strategy officers will deny it. Some strategy consultants may reject the idea, too. But, right now, markets are unpredictable. The economic outlook is uncertain. The world has changed. If old-style strategy formulation is not exactly dead, then it is hardly in the best of health.

For months, many leadership teams have had only one strategic goal in mind: survival. Grander visions have been filed away or forgotten. This hedgehog-style approach – roll up into a ball and wait until things are less scary – may keep a company alive temporarily, but does little to prepare it for the future.

Analysis by Boston Consulting Group suggests that corporate hibernation only works if recessions are short, if the outside world goes back to the way it was before, and if all your competitors are equally inactive, tucked up for the economic winter. In 2009, not one of these conditions applies.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below

Ravi Mattu

England football manager Fabio Capello has had a remarkably successful career in Italy, Spain and now as manager of England (ok, he hasn’t won anything yet, but they have qualified for the World Cup). Sports analogies are used too often in the world of management speak (even for a sportsfan like me) but according to an article in the Guardian about his presentation at the Global Sports Summit in London, Capello reveals a couple of interesting truths.

First, he says that when he took over England the quality of the players was very high in training but not in matches.

“I understood everything when they played Switzerland in the first match, the same players who played well in training played with fear, with no confidence, and I said this is a big problem of the mind,” he said. “Step by step, game after game, we have improved a lot.”



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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