Using your Strengths to Leverage your Opportunities

Today we have a guest post from Chris Mason, Founder – Mindshop

Mindshop has a unique way of conducting a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. The starting point of this process is to identify your strengths and opportunities. You then ask the key question, “How can I use these strengths to commercialize these opportunities?”

I have used this part-process on a hypothetical manufacturing firm.

The strengths and opportunities identified from the review are as follows:

· A large number of reasonably sized customers who like and trust us
· Owners and managers who know the customers and their needs well
· There are good skills in the production and service area
· The firm has a wealth of relevant experience in our industry

· Several of the customers need to exit their business within 5 years
· Some of our customers who sourced products from China now regret it
· Some customers are having difficulty in growing their business
· We have some great product ideas
By reviewing the strengths and asking the quesiton “how they can be used to leverage the opportunities?” the following ideas emerge:
· Why not develop a product that solves a customer problem, helps them grow, and we sell more to existing customers?
· We should “hunt in packs” with those who know the customer teaming up with those more confident in selling
· Our website needs to reflect that we are good at creating innovation and success for our customers
· We need to contact our best customers at least monthly and do it on a structured basis
· Why don’t we have some teams working on pulling waste out of our production processes?
· We need to train our people in profit improvement and growth creation
· We need to spend at least 25% of our time out of the office talking to customers about their needs and aspirations. You never know we may better understand our customer’s issues and needs.
· Our ability to close the sale needs improvement, why not coach all our key people in how to do this in a professional manner?

These are just some of the ideas for using your strengths to commercialize your opportunities. There are many others.

Why wouldn’t you try this process on your own business for a three month period, with a monthly review of what you have achieved, what you have learned, and what you need to do differently in the following month? You can only fail if you stop trying.

If you have any questions, please contact me: jim (at) accountplus (dot) ie

How to overcome the Knowing-Doing Gap

Many people go on courses and learn some very powerful techniques but don’t go on to apply the techniques. Some of these people are serial course/workshop attenders. They have all the knowledge. They can tell you how to solve your problems but they don’t seem to be able to apply it to themselves.

This phenomenon is common and is often called the knowing-doing gap. And it’s possible to overcome it.

The best tool that I have found to do this is one called the DVP tool, a tool often used by change practitioners. This tool helps you understand why there’s a gap and encourages you to create a strategy to overcome the issue. The tool proposes that a rough probability of success with any change endeavour can be estimated by rating three essential factors out of ten and then multiplying the three ratings.

The three rating factors are

  1. D for Dissatisfaction. This is the WHY or motivational factor of the tool. How dissatisfied are you with your current situation. If you don’t have a high level of Dissatisfaction then you will not be motivated to take action.
  2. V for Vision. This is the WHERE factor of the tool. Disatisaction can motivate you to get away from where you are but it doesn’t provide a direction or an end point. Vision pulls you towards change by providing a strong direction and pull towards the change. The vision is how you would like your situation to be in the future. Where there is no vision, there tends to be lots of activity but focussed on the wrong things.
  3. P for Plan. This is the HOW factor of the tool. A clear strategic plan with clear activities and deliverables can help increase the motivation for change. We use a simple one page plan to develop a practical one page summary of an action plan. The Plan shows clearly what will by done, by whom and by when.

So let’s say you have been on a time management course but you are not putting the learnings into practice, what you would do is rate each of the factors.

Let’s say you give 6 out of ten for Dissatisfaction, you give 4 out of 10 for Vision and you give 2 out of 10 for Plan, when we multiply those we get 48 out of 1000. That rating is so low that you can be pretty certain that nothing will happen. Dissatisfaction usually needs to be high for change to occur – a rating of 8 is recommended.

So next time you think of attending a course, firstly ask yourself how dissatisfied you are with your situation relative to the course. If you are not dissatisfied, then ask yourself what’s the value of doing the course.

Secondly, consider the possibilities. Maybe the course will help you build your vision of what might be possible. If you don’t leave the course with a compelling vision of how you can apply the course to your own situation, the workbooks will go and sit on the shelves.

Finally, you should have a practical plan for implementing the learning. On a good course this will be part of the material. If not, do it yourself later, in your own time.

A tool for helping to make decisions

Often, I meet with clients who are struggling to make a decision. In a situation like that, I guide them through what I call the Decision Matrix.

Firstly I get them to identify the alternatives. Then, I get them to identify the key factors relevant to the decision. Then, for each alternative, I have them rate each factor. The alternative with the hightest score is usually the best answer.

Here’s a step–by-step guide through the process.

1. Identify the decision to be made and the main choices or alternatives. List these across the top of the matrix.

2. Brainstorm as a group the Criteria/Factors that would influence the selection of the Choices/Alternatives.

3. You can select as many selection Criteria/Factors as you like but I like to keep it to no more than 10. In our example we have selected 4.

4. Having chosen the selection Criteria/Factors, you now need to weigh them individually to jointly total 100. (see example below in the Weighting column). With the weighting, you are recognising that some factors are more important than others so their score should count higher.

5. With the weighting in place you can now go ahead and score each of the selected Choices/Alternatives against each Criteria/Factor. Remember that your score for each Choice/Alternative cannot exceed the weighting you have allocated to the selection Criteria/Factor. It is recommended that your first Choice/Alternative be used as your benchmark for scoring the others and rated at 50% of the allocated weight. I strongly suggest you work across the table first and then down. This enables you to concentrate and focus on one important Criteria/Factor at a time and measure and weigh against all the Choices/Alternatives. It’s a lot easier this way.

6. Total all the scores.

7. Discuss and agree based on the scores what is the best decision to be made.

Sometimes, when we run through the matrix, the client might not be happy with the result. Usually, when we discuss why, we discover that there are some factors that are actually more important than the weightings allocated. Or indeed, a critical factor may have been completely left out. So, your first answer may not always be right but the process forces you to consider the answer you got against the answer you’r prefer and identify why they are different. This may cause you to go back and change either the factors or the weightings or both. At the end of the day, you’ll have a better decision.

8. Your basic Decision Matrix should look something like this, however there are many personal modifications you can add.

Weighting Focus Avensis BMW 320
Purchase Cost 30 15 12 10
Running Cost 20 10 10 8
Image 30 15 15 25
Comfort 20 10 10 15
100 50 47 58

Why is change so hard?

Today’s guest blog post comes from Mindshop colleague, Mark Ellsworth (

Have you ever wondered why some companies seem to thrive despite economic uncertainty, while many of their competitors seem to struggle for survival?

Is it that one company’s products are so much superior to that of another? Possibly, but not likely. Is it that the access to capital is greater in some company’s than in others? Maybe, but many well-capitalized companies are struggling in this economy.

The fundamental problem in many companies is an inability to adapt to current changes in competitive forces and buying behavior. As humans we have a natural instinct to resist change. This instinct is the result of our basic need for security. Change can be uncertain and uncertainty breeds insecurity.

We will change only when our Dissatisfaction (or discomfort) with the status quo becomes so great that we can no longer tolerate the results (and missed opportunities) that come from practicing our old and established ways. Then and only then can we implement and sustain a process of change. What drives humans to change is also what drives companies to change.

The growing and successful companies we observe today are those that have embraced their Dissatisfaction and developed a process of continuous improvement (i.e., change) that has resulted in streamlined business processes, greater competitive advantage and improved decision-making. So if you are in the position of wondering why your company’s growth and profits seem to lag, ask yourself, “What is our level of Dissatisfaction?”

In a future blogpost, we will introduce you to a simple tool to help you measure your company’s potential for change.

Why you should invest in Management Development

While attending a recent induction session for the SCCUL Mentors Programme, I became aware of a 2010 report by Forfás on Management Development in Ireland.

The Report quotes findings from a McKinsey review of management practices across 14 countries which found that

  • Management Practice in the high value manufacturing sector is above average .
  • Agreggate management practices across all manufacturing sectors in Ireland lag performances amongst similar firms in the highest performing countries.
  • Mean performance in Ireland is also below global averages for almost all sectors of manufacturing other than the high value manufacturing sector.
  • There is considerable variation in performance by sector and firm size, and firm category. Irish firms employing between 50 and 250 employees are ranked just 12th out of 14 countries.

The Report goes on to highlight that there is a strong relationship between management practice and business performance. McKinsey found that improved management practice is associated with large increases in productivity and in output. The research findings suggest that a single point improvement in a firm’s management practice score is associated with an increase in output equivalent to that produced by a 25 % increase in the work force or a 65 % increase in working capital.

Statistics such as those make a very strong case for firms to invest in management development. Who would not want output increases equivalent to a 25% increase in the workforce? If the research is correct and we are starting from a low base, then it must be quite realistic to achieve single point increases in the management practice score.

A first step for any firm would be to carry out a Now Assessment – where are we now as regards management practice. From there establish where you want to be and then put an action plan in place to close the gap.

A very quick way of doing something like that would be to complete our GPS diagnostic which can be found here –

If you have any questions about this blog post please contact jim(at)accountsplus(dot).ie

Finding time for Strategic Thinking

This blog update comes from Mindshop Colleague, Paul Hopwood. ( Paul is a longtime Mindshop Member and is one of the Support Coaches for Mindshop members.

Very often, the biggest constraint for business owners is their time. Those who make time to think strategically tend to punch above their weight. We know this intuitively, but operational issues can easily get in the way.

“Strategy is the great work of an organisation. In situations of life and death, it is the Tao of survival or extinction. Its study cannot be neglected – Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

“Plans are useless, but the process of planning is indispensible” – Eisenhower

If you are guiding your business or a customer on their strategic agenda, it’s your job to isolate the right quantity and quality of strategic thinking time.

Here are 10 tips for doing so:

1. Split board meetings between strategy and operations. This could potentially be done in separate meetings, possibly with a smaller steering group
2. Schedule the dates for the entire year ahead and never cancel the meetings
3. Use the One Page Plan as a framework. If you are discussing something that isn’t on the plan – either the plan is wrong, or you probably aren’t being strategic
4. Get the administrative protocols right – E.g. agenda in advance, circulate papers a week in advance, start and finish on time, bullet point minutes of actions and follow up action progress between meetings
5. Be aware of where the conversation is leading while keeping a balance between strategic and operational issues
6. If there are some short-term, burning issues, factor them into the One Page Plan, but don’t get bogged down – decide how they should be tackled outside the meeting (e.g. project team) and move on
7. Be conscious that you don’t spend too much time managing exceptions (i.e. actions not completed and excuses). This is a total waste of everyone’s time
8. Ensure someone is responsible for keeping the meeting strategic. Usually this will be the chair or facilitator
9. Make your planning process iterative. Don’t put all your effort into the annual away-day, but evolve the strategy as you go along
10. Define the rules for each meeting – E.g. ego-less, listening, not interrupting, allowing everyone a turn to speak.
Do this well and everyone will get good value from their strategic time and be able to reduce the time they waste fighting fires.”

As always, if you have any questions on this blog post, feel free to contact jim (at) accountsplus (dot) ie.

Tools for organising ideas

Affinity Diagrams are a tool used to organise information by identifying some commonality. In improvement projects, they can be used to organise a large number of issues or ideas into logical groupings. Affinity Diagrams are usually created by recording ideas onto post-it notes and then physically moving or organising the notes so that they are grouped in a more useful way.

Mindmapping is also a tool used to represent information. The structure of the mindmap is designed to easily communicate linkages. With mindmaps, you start with a central theme. From this central theme, the main elements or branches of a subject radiate. From these elements or branches, you can have minor elements or subranches. There are many software tools to help create mindmaps including mindmanager, freemind etc.

I often combine mindmapping with affinity diagrams to firstly record a brainstorming session and secondly to organise the results of the brainstorm into what is essentially an affinity diagram.

Let’s say that I have to design a training workshop or write a report.

I start by opening a blank mindmap using my mindmapping software. I then brainstorm the topic recording each new idea as a separate branch on the mindmap. At this stage, the activity is purely about brainstorming – I don’t worry about structure or duplication or linkages. The mindmap looks like one central idea with many branches radiating from that idea but no sub-branches.

Once I feel that I have exhausted all my new ideas, I then start into organising the output that I have. Using the approach to creating an affinity diagram, I scan the mindmap and, where I see that two branches have something in common, I bring them together – firstly creating a new branch and then moving the existing ideas to be sub-branches of the new branch. I don’t name the new branches until I have completed the full re-organisation. I continue organising and grouping until I consider that I have organised my ideas as well as I can. At that stage, I review the diagram and put names or label on the new branches. Usually the labels are obvious and are prompted by the commonality or connection.

Sometimes, there is more than one way to organise or structure the ideas and I may rework the original brainstorm output until I am happy with it.

The resultant mindmap can be exported to become the outline of the training workshop or the report or article that I am working on. I find that once I have the ideas gathered and structured the remaining work of the project becomes much easier.

If you want to learn more about improvement and productivity tools and techniques, please contact me by email jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

ERP: Developing Cross-Functional Buy-In

Today we have a guest post from John Donagher of BSM. A few years ago, I did some work with BSM on developing the client requirements for RFPs for ERP systems. I worked with John then and he is very knowledgeable about ERP and implementing ERP. John recently posted this on his own Blog.

Most organisations are comprised of multiple departments, and when it comes to implementing ERP the impact is felt right across the organisation. Resistance and apathy are major project risks, so how can they be avoided?

The last thing an ERP implementation project needs is a lack of willingness from parts of the organisation to fully engage with and support the project. Negativity can take two forms: resistance and apathy. The root causes for resistance are typically fear of change and a lack of understanding of the rationale for the project. Apathy often results from a feeling that the new system is being imposed, rather than having views regarding what’s required taken into account. ERP implementations are difficult at the best of times, but dealing with resistance and apathy means even more risk for the project.

The road to developing “buy-in” for ERP starts at the beginning of the system selection process. Getting people involved, ensuring their voices are heard and that they’re made to feel part of the decision-making process is one of the best ways to guarantee their long-term engagement with the ERP project. A starting point is to have every department affected by the ERP implementation represented on the system selection project team. Far too often we in BSM see the Finance and IT departments taking the lead role, and while they certainly need to be involved in the selection project they’re generally not best placed to specify the system requirements in other functional areas. A structured selection process with cross-functional involvement can create a positive atmosphere around the ERP project, with dividends accruing right through the implementation in terms of good will.

Buy-in can also be developed through effectively managing and focussing on the business benefits of the ERP project. Ensuring that business benefits are understood, quantified and owned by the business is another important element in achieving buy-in: a manager who understands how the system will improve his area, and who has bought-in to delivering those benefits, is likely to be a strong advocate of the project. If the project is strongly focussed on business benefits, and managers are clear on what the benefits are and are responsible for delivering those benefits, then the project is far more likely to be successful.

This Blog was written by John Donagher, Senior IS Consultant at BSM. If you would like further information on developing cross-functional buy-in please send an e-mail to John Donagher.

Unit Price v Total Cost

Today’s blog update comes from Mindshop founder, Chris Mason.

“In today’s ever increasingly competitive global market the question on how to compete on price always comes up.

People believe that the only way to compete is to be the lowest price supplier of their goods or services. Unit price is only one factor in deciding who to deal with. The more compelling factor is what I call the Total Cost.

For example, I want to get my car repaired, do I go to the person with the lowest quotation if they are located in a city four hours away; of course not. Do I go to someone locally just because they have the lowest cost; probably not.

So what is causing my concern? I know from experience that I need to check the total cost, will the unknown supplier use quality parts, will they do it when I want, do they take my preferred credit card, and can I trust them to do the repair well? I cannot always put a financial price on each of these factors but they do impact on my perception of the total price. The bottom line is that not always is the lowest unit price the lowest total cost.

This concept works in any sales situation. A lot of manufactures were tempted to source their components from emerging nations such as China and India, only to find that there was a sting in the tail of the total cost. In this case factors such as communication, quality, on time delivery, minimum order quantities, and freight, added to the unit price. Many have subsequently brought their business back on-shore because of these extra costs.

Think about your own business, what are the unit costs and what extra costs can you manage for your customer.

You should be able to work on making the total cost of buying from you lower than the total cost of buying from your competitor even when your unit cost is higher. If you find you really cannot create a lower total cost perhaps you need to change the way you price and pull waste out of your processes.

The worst case scenario is that you withdraw from that market, but the need to do that is rare. Start with the price that you need to be competitive and work backwards to determine your target material, labour, and overhead costs. When talking to your customers, talk total cost rather than unit price and you are less likely to have to compete poor quality and unreliable competitors.”

As always, if you have any comments or questions on the above blog post, contact jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

Making Time for what’s important

There is a lot of good information available from my colleagues in Mindshop that will be very helpful to readers of this blog. From time to time, I plan on sharing some of the best thinking with you. Today’s blog post was written by David Duffy of PrincipleFocus in Australia ( Here’s David’s article.

“Most of us have felt swamped at one time or another with hectic work schedules, family responsibilities, and social engagements. However, once we learn to manage our time wisely, much of the day-to-day chaos can be reduced or even eliminated.

We all have the same amount of time; it is just how we use it to do what is important. The first step is to decide what it is that we want to achieve – our goals.

The next step is to list and prioritize our activities by identifying critical deadlines, value, routine tasks, fun/relaxation time, etc.

Now we can develop a general work schedule. Many business people do not put it in writing and therefore have problems, no time for themselves or time for planning of their business. Your schedule is where you program in your daily tasks aimed at you reaching your goals.

As part of our coaching of clients to increase their effectiveness, we have developed a list of time management tips. Some of these are:

· Contract out tasks. Contract out tasks you do not have the expertise to complete. Your client will appreciate your honesty and effort to get the best result.
· Start with the most worrisome task. Start the morning, afternoon, or evening with the most worrisome task before you. This will reduce your anxiety level for the next task.
· Complete deadline work early. Not only will this reduce stress and lighten your work schedule, but it will also give you more self-confidence about managing your schedule.
·Know your capacity for stress. When you are hitting overload, take the break you need (even if it is a short one) when you need it.
· Stay organized. Take time at the end of each day to briefly organize your desk and make reminder lists of tasks for the next day or week.
· Take advantage of “down time”. Allow yourself some “down time” between busy periods to review your schedule and re-evaluate your priorities.
· Get physical. Physical exertion helps to discharge stress. Exercise, playing with children, or doing yard work are types of therapeutic breaks you should consider during times of stress.
. Have fun. Be sure to have some fun while working or playing. A good sense of humor can keep most problems in perspective.
· Divide up your time. Decide how much time to spend on business development, personal needs and family. Start by allowing 25 percent of your time for yourself.
· Build flexibility into your schedule. Your availability to family and friends depends on the flexibility you build into your schedule.
· In the bigger picture, consider the relationship between your business life and your personal life. Be realistic, keeping in mind what is most important to you.

Don’t underestimate the toll that emotional stress takes on your physical health and your ability to concentrate on your work or enjoy time with your family. Make sure you have time for the important things.”

Helping individuals achieve balance between business and personal life is a prime objective of AccountsPLUS. Contact Jim on 086 2323525 or email him at jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.