What Made Your Company Great?

So, your Q2 2015 didn't go quite as well as you had hoped. Or perhaps a new product or service isn't catching on quite as quickly as you had expected. What went wrong? Sometimes getting back on track involves asking yourself a very simple question: What made your company great the first time around?

A few examples:

Microsoft...

  1. Greatness: The company brought high-volume, low-cost software to the masses -- riding third-party platforms (IBM PCs, Intel microprocessors) along the way. Oh, and the ISV programs were world-class.
  2. Errors: Microsoft ignored the smartphone masses over on Android and iOS, instead preferring to pay nearly $10 billion for Nokia's stumbling cellphone business. The result was a $7.6 billion write-off and 7,800 job cuts.
  3. Return to form?: Current CEO Satya Nadella is no longer playing platform favorites, making sure that Microsoft's cloud and mobile software are increasingly platform agnostic.

Apple...

  1. Greatness: Simple, elegant design that tightly integrates hardware and software -- with only a few models to ease the buying decision. Example: The Apple iPhone launch in 2007 focused on two models (4GB and 8GB) and three killer apps in one device (converging the iPod, the phone and the Internet).
  2. Errors: Apple Watch arrived with far too many versions and no killer app -- creating customer confusion, and a higher probability for buyer remorse... if the target buyer actually gets around to making a buying decision... (Alas, Apple Watch sales appear to be flopping.)
  3. Return to form?: Surely, Apple will trim back all the Apple Watch variants and focus on a handful of killer apps in time for the holiday shopping season -- right?

IBM...

  1. Greatness: Comprehensive consulting and trusted guidance that's vendor agnostic, assisting customers with all sorts of databases, hardware and software offerings while deploying and managing mission-critical infrastructure.
  2. Errors: Obsession with long-term earnings guidance for shareholders, rather than major market shifts like cloud and mobile.
  3. Return to form?: CEO Ginni Rometty finally has IBM's cloud and mobile strategy gaining momentum -- and she scrapped a long-term earnings per share goal in order to reset Wall Street's expectations.

RIM BlackBerry...

  1. Greatness: Highly reliable, highly secure mobile devices that blended cell service and email into a killer corporate device.
  2. Errors: Initially dismissed the iPhone and touch computing. Then, tried to become consumer company with late-to-game tablet.
  3. Return to form?: Focusing on secure mobile software...

Novell...

  1. Greatness: Aggressive partnering made network operating system work with all major hardware and software platforms, setting the first PC LAN server operating system standard along the way (NetWare).
  2. Errors: Obsession with Microsoft triggered destructive, distracting M&A deals (Unix, WordPerfect, etc.). Plus, no real succession plan for original visionary Ray Noorda.
  3. Return to form?: Never really happened, though Novell is still around.

Your Company...

  1. Greatness: What triggered that initial greatness? Ignore product names and/or product brands. Explain and understand the essence of why a product or service actually caught on.
  2. Errors: Where did you lose your way? Trailing indicators (like revenue and profits) may offer some timing clues. But leading indicators (customer satisfaction scores, retention rates) may provide better clues...
  3. Return to form?: Whom within your company is responsible for the next pivot -- the next move that will either re-energize your core business or branch you out into a new one?

Of course, I've over-simplified the "return to greatness"  discussion. And it won't be the last time that I do that... ...

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