Today, I interview Gary Harpst, who has decades of experience as an executive and is now a famous business book author. Today, he shares his practical knowledge on how to achieve business success in this execution revolution.
Gary, we all know that enterprises have tremendous resources for executing on various business/marketing programs. How can individuals or small companies pull this off? What are cheap ways to make a big impact?
Two suggestions. The first is the internet. It is no respecter of persons. Everyone is equal when it comes to the internet. A recent famous business success was the “will it blend” series on YouTube where for $50, a creative CEO created a hit series of videos of blending different objects including iPhones, garden rakes, etc. The result was 40m views and increase in business by multiples. When it comes to the internet, the sky is the limit. It just requires creativity.
The second suggestion is PR. There are quite a number of avenues available for “free” advertising. One is to become a great speaker. Learn how to talk about real business problems and their solutions in a humorous, friendly way and you will get more opportunities to speak. Press releases on a regular basis, writing articles, etc. These are things that can be done without spending money but it does require time and SUSTAINED effort. The results are small at first but they gradually compound.
What is the single biggest challenge in business today and how do you propose people tackle it?
For established businesses, the biggest challenge by far is building an organization that knows how to build a good plan and execute it. The norm in business is that a company grows to the point where it outgrows its ability to execute. For many businesses the founder starts the business and is good at building or selling something.
That success leads to hiring more people and eventually the owner’s job switches to organization building instead of “widget building”. It requires a whole different set of skills and most either take years to figure it out or never do and stop growing. The great news is that progress in the information age over the past 30 years has brought us to the point where new approaches to execution management are emerging. These will drive what I call the Execution Revolution as described in my latest book, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, (which has become a bestseller on The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and BusinessWeek.)
What is the “execution revolution,” how will it affect the economy, our lives and the way we do business?
In the information age our primary assets are people. The ability for an organization to execute well depends on the quality of the decisions that every person in the organization makes, every single day. And interestingly, the better the organization executes today, the greater its execution challenges will be tomorrow – more employees, bigger competitors, more cash, etc.
The Execution Revolution will be driven by a “complete” integrated program that incorporates some sort of business building methodology (planning and execution management approach), on-going coaching to hold people accountable to following the methodology, a system (technology) to manage execution no matter where they are located physically and last of all, some sort of information sharing network that will allow best practices to be identified and shared at a fraction of the cost of the past. This sort of complete program is falling into place gradually and will provide a leapfrog in the capabilities of organizations to avoid their ability to outgrow their strategies.
How have you built your personal brand as a consultant, business owner and bestselling author? What does it take to be #1 of the WSJ bestsellers list?
My greatest credentials are related to having lived in the business world for 30 plus years. As a CEO, I have made just about every mistake you can make and still survive. These experiences give me a very practical, hands-on view of the business world — what works and what doesn’t. I am not an expert on making books a bestseller since I have only one that has achieved that distinction.
In my particular case, it was a great marketing program that drove our visibility and success, where we made sure the book was placed in the hands of many reviewers and influencers. As an author builds success, their personal brand makes each subsequent book easier. In today’s world, a first time author needs to have a significant marketing budget or some incredible PR for the book to catch on.
What are your top 5 tips for being successful under the current economic climate?
- Keep control of costs and do so in a way that you are able to maintain sales and marketing focus. Sometimes people cut back in the wrong areas and make the problems worse.
- When cutting costs, cut the things that are the least profitable parts of your business. We all have our sacred cows in business that we are reluctant to let go of. Sometimes these difficult times allow us to do things we should have done sooner.
- Manage receivables tightly. Stay on top of slow payers and understand what your cash flow is going to be. Don’t wait until you are in trouble.
- Think through NOW what you would do if your bank did not renew your loans or lines of credit. Many national and regional banks are having policy changes that can result in big surprises. A man in our community who is highly respected and has a 30 plus year of success just had his bank decline a loan renewal even though his businesses are performing well. The reason: policy changes at headquarters. No longer in that type of loan business.
- Seize the opportunity. Interestingly those businesses who have managed well and have a strong balance sheet can seize opportunity in down turns. Several of our clients are growing now because they learned to execute well over the past few years and they are now increasing business because of the weakness of their competitors.
Gary Harpst is the author of Six Disciplines Execution Revolution and CEO of Six Disciplines, which he started in 2000. Before he founded the company, Harpst spent almost a year talking with small business owners and other experts, researching the needs of small businesses and exploring ways to leverage the latest technologies to meet those needs. Prior to Six Disciplines, Harpst was a co-founder of Solomon Software. During the 20 years he led that organization, Solomon grew to be one of the industry’s market leaders, installing more than 60,000 systems in small to medium-sized businesses around the world. Beyond Six Disciplines, Harpst serves as an officer and board member of several organizations.