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September 14, 2004
Notetaking: Bread and Butter for Managers and Consultants
Topic: 1) General Management
Note taking is a topic that I wanted to write about for a long time because it is not only a highly underrated task but also a bread and butter skill of mine. I have received many positive comments on my note taking skills from colleagues, lawyers, investors, customers, and other professionals. Many have even commented that I well earn my pay just on note taking. Note taking is very applicable to general management, consulting, sales, due diligence, interpersonal communications, and facilitation. Here are a few, overlooked golden benefits of note taking:

1) Taking good notes provides a foundation for making better decisions. Why? There is less possibility for selective filtering and recall of information. Managers have a tendency to remember what they want to hear about what's going on in their business. Same mistakes can be made by consultants too, but a good consultant should be trained to be unbiased and to listen to facts (while documenting the rest too).

2) Taking good notes enables a manager or consultant to engage all types of people in an organization. In a popular personality test known as Myers-Briggs (M-B) typing, one of the dimensions of evaluation is whether a person is an (E)xtrovert or (I)ntrovert type. A common misunderstanding of the term of "extrovert" is that it refers to social butterfly types, people that are outgoing and talkative. Similarly a common misunderstanding of the term "introvert" is that it refers to those that have tendencies to crawl into holes when people come around. While this may be true in common English, roughly speaking, the E and I designations for M-B refer to whether a person is energized by actively thinking about information in the open (Extroverts) or process information internally as their normal mode of operation (Introverts). Bringing it back to note taking, written notes help to engage introverts in the company while providing a script for engaging the extroverts (who actually tend to think out loud). If you engage a person using the wrong channel, you may not get the message across at all.

3) Taking good notes can be dovetailed with editorial comments that drive action and change. There is a fine line between being a secretary (accurately documenting what has happened) and being a change agent. Managers and consultants need to be able to do both. Accurate documentation is required for one to be ethical and to drive unbiased decision-making. However, there is also an important power of the pen. How things are framed, played back, portraryed against business value, etc. can influence what actions come next by an organization.

Steve Shu, Managing Director, S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 10:43 PM CDT
Updated: September 14, 2004 10:51 PM CDT
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September 7, 2004
Applying "Regret" Concepts for Better Decisions
Topic: 1) General Management
Ever wonder how you can leverage the pessimist in you to make better decisions? As a practicing management consultant, I'm focused on facts, quantitative information, benchmarks, leadership, and results. I generally say "pooh-pooh" to everything else. However, there is an important soft side of me that relies on gut feel a bit and sanity checking.

This soft side of me instinctively uses a concept of regret to help ensure broad possibilities are considered, especially when one is at a crossroads. For example, suppose one has converged on making one of two choices that are diametrically opposed and that once the path is chosen, there is a point of no return (e.g., selling off intellectual property of the company or choosing a penetration pricing strategy). Before one commits to the choice, one should ask, "Am I going to regret this decision?" Hopefully, what will be triggered in one's mind will be a process that makes sure that one is looking at the decision from many different angles. For example, one may decide that additional experiments are needed to validate original thinking ("am I going to regret not running additional experiments or will I be able to sleep at night if I commit now?").

In any case, forcing oneself to look at all alternatives by posing key questions of regret can be used in a positive way as a means to strengthen commitment and resolve as opposed to killing momentum. After having considered regret, one should feel better after making a decision, neither worse nor more confused. At least this is one method that helps keep me on track and able to sleep well at night when making tough decisions.

Steve Shu, Managing Director, S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 10:50 PM CDT
Updated: September 7, 2004 10:59 PM CDT
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September 5, 2004
Applying Operations Theory to Early-Stage Ventures (Part I)
Topic: 3) Ventures
Early-stage ventures frequently have dynamic and demanding environments. Aside from the technical aspects of corporate governance and executive management, a key question for operating managers in a venture is who is going to do what by when (the 3Ws).

While this goal-driven perspective is important, I also find it useful to draw analogies and apply operations concepts such as those illustrated in the popular business novel by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, "The Goal". In that book, the reader is essentially introduced to having to increase the output of a manufacturing plant, a foreign environment to most readers. One concept introduced in the book to solve the problem is to try to figure out where the bottleneck is and to alleviate the bottleneck, e.g., by increasing processing capacity at the point of the bottleneck, to increase throughput.

I find the bottleneck concept to very important for early-stage ventures, especially since there may be little margin for error in the venture and since response times are so critical. Sometimes the bottleneck is sales prospecting or lead generation. Other times, it has to do with insufficient marketing collateral or capital. Managers in early-stage companies need to look at problems using multiple frameworks and methods so that they can not only remove bottlenecks but also recognize them. I suggest that using principles of operations can also help as even experienced managers in early-stage ventures will find themselves in new, foreign environments like the main character in "The Goal".

Unfortunately, removing a bottleneck can create a bottleneck in another area (shifting bottlenecks). If companies didn't have enough things to worry about! Well, we'll save that for Part II.

Steve Shu, Managing Director, S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 11:17 PM CDT
Updated: September 6, 2004 7:35 AM CDT
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September 3, 2004
Interim Management and Auditioning
Topic: 2) The Consulting Trade
The term "interim management" connotes different things to people. Some view it as a niche separate from consulting where the interim manager takes responsibility for a particular aspect of the business for a short period of time. Others view interim management positions as turnaround-type positions for a firm.

Rather than define the term, I think its useful to view interim management in terms of fitting a role to the need at hand and minimizing side effects. On the one hand, a good purpose of interim management could be to bring in world-class resources immediately. One the other hand, a tendency may develop to make the company overly dependent on an interim manager like a crutch.

I have been involved in cases where an interim manager is used in conjunction with the immediate process of placing a permanent manager. If designed properly, such a structure can yield excellent results including faster time-to-market, creative tension, and a coaching and supportive environment for the prospective permanent hire. If the prospective permanent hire in mind does not work out, senior management can use the auditioning period as a means to determine what to do next, e.g., move the team players around a bit, let the evaluation period for the permanent hire go longer, or work with the interim manager more actively to get the permanent hire on track.

Steve Shu, Managing Director, S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 11:51 PM CDT
Updated: September 4, 2004 7:22 AM CDT
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September 2, 2004
On the Air
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: 1) General Management
This blog complements the S4 Manangement Group website at The blog will serve as a dynamic place to capture perspectives from S4 Management Group consultants and invited partners.

Initial topics will center around aspects and tricks of the trade that I've found few people make accessible for more general consumption. The initial topics are:
    i) General Manangement
    ii) Consulting Trade
    iii) Early-Stage Ventures
    iv) Business Templates
Please feel free to post your feedback or send the authors comments. Thanks for tuning in!

Steve Shu, Managing Director, S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 1:01 AM CDT
Updated: September 18, 2004 10:18 PM CDT
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