Giving up on the 1-Yard Line: Finding triumph over mistakes that companies make

This article was published by CMC Canada in the Summer 2019 issue of Consult.

In my many years as a business advisor and venture capitalist, I have seen companies make a lot of mistakes.  There have certainly been successes, but mistakes, unfortunately, are a lot more common.  Some of the ones that are the most damaging are those that are analogous to “giving up on the 1-yard line”, where after a prolonged period of time of working, pushing forward, and focusing on their game, a company’s leadership throws up its collective hands and says, “I’m done”.  Why is this so harmful?

First, this situation tends to occur when facing challenging tasks that are integral to the success of a company; examples include areas such as properly conducted business planning, implementation of fundamental systems and processes, and successfully attracting financial and strategic partners.  Appropriately addressing these areas tends to take far more work than business leaders anticipate; they also represent initiatives that might be entirely new.  As a result, the keen enthusiasm that is apparent when a project begins tends to fade to an attitude of “we don’t need to work this hard”.

Second, companies sometimes have difficulty focusing on priorities, as key areas tend to be far less glamorous that the “fun” aspects of being in business, such as designing a new logo, touring office space options, or chatting up prospective partners that the company has little potential of actually attracting.  Days get filled with these activities, that are more about busy-ness and less about results, decreasing the amount of available time to focus on the real work that needs to get done.  This is a hard lesson that business leaders tend to discover far too late, and can be as damaging as losing key customers or running out of money.  Full stop.

A better approach is recognizing that advisors who have “been there” and “done that” are in a unique position to provide the important leverage that companies need, to ensure that they are focusing on the right things, conducting their work at a quality level, and not running out of steam.  How can this be achieved?

  • Priorities are not always obvious. Amazing, but true.  Business leaders can get so caught up in the challenges of running the company on a day-to-day basis, dealing with staff members, and responding to customer needs that they are unsure (or unaware) about the steps that should be taken to make meaningful progress on a corporate level and might lack the experience of what is required in order to do so.  Advisors can play a key role by identifying and prioritizing task items and keeping the implementation process on track.  All of these areas are common pitfalls and represent the difference between starting something and actually getting it done (activity does not equate to meaningful progress).
  • Experienced advisors are the “acid test”. Advisors with a strong experience and qualification base understand where important initiatives need to “get to”, such as what financial partners need to know in order to make a decision.  Companies tend to take the view that “what we provide to them will be good enough”, failing to understand the woeful inadequacy of this approach.  Using raising capital or financing as an example, experienced financial partners have typically reviewed more opportunities than they can count and operate in an environment of limited money and an investment mandate that guides selection.  They very quickly slot opportunities into a category, and chances are, it won’t be the “yes” file.  Experienced advisors have a skillset that is extremely valuable; one that can help a company put its best foot forward and anticipate what is required in order to get to a successful outcome.  Be sure to probe an advisor’s qualifications to ensure that they are the right fit for the particular initiative at hand.
  • Utilize skill to get there, faster and better. Teams who spend the whole game running around on the field, for the sake of running around, don’t win very many games.  Coaches of successful teams know how and when to utilize resources in a manner where they can make the best contribution, including recognizing that there are times when specialized help is needed.  This is where an experienced advisor can play an important role, providing the necessary expertise to quarterback complicated plays and get to the endzone more quickly.  Business leaders sometimes do not appreciate the value of resources with the right experience; this fact tends to get reinforced in times of poor advice, from those who are not qualified to help, or when receiving no assistance at all.  A company might not recognize the weaknesses that result, but the external party that they are trying to impress likely does.

These lessons might seem relatively straightforward, but reality reflects something quite different, as fumbles and mishaps in all of these areas, and numerous others, are quite common.  What can make a big difference is perspective; stepping back to see how far an initiative has come, the relatively short journey that remains, its level of priority, and what success requires.  If business leaders did this more often, there would be far fewer companies walking off the field with only one yard left to go.

Brands that Aim to “Super-Please”

It’s not too often these days that a brand steps up and takes action to “super-please” its customers, but one of my favourite brands, Babor skincare, did just that for me recently by sending me the most wonderful package of their products.  I’ve loved great skincare products for most of my life and they are especially important these days, given the TV work that I do (in an HD world, no less!).  Regardless, who doesn’t love skin that looks and feels great every day?

 

I’ve been using Babor for a while now and here’s a look at the products I will be trying and commenting on (via my Instagram page) over the next while:

  • Cleansing HY-OLa cleansing oil for all skin types.  With oil-based cleansers being all the rage these days, Babor has combined the natural cleansing powers of water and oil and developed a unique bi-phase, deep action cleanser that promotes skin vitality.
  • Phytoactive Sensitivethe treatment phase for cleansing with HY-OL, containing herbal essences tailored to sensitive skin types, designed to refresh and lend radiance.  Since I love scent, I can’t wait to try this relaxing product.
  • Rejuvenating Face Oil, a newly launched product designed to give skin an extra boost.  Inspired by Dr. Babor’s research on lipids and by the black rose, this luxurious face oil lends new radiance to the skin.  Looking forward to trying this product, as face oils provide such great moisturizing benefits.
  • Hydra Plus Active Fluid, from Babor’s luxurious ampoule collection, Hydra Plus provides a moisture boost to dry and dehydrated skin.
  • Algae Active Fluid, another powerful ampoule, bringing the benefits of the sea to dry, dull skin.
  • Ampoule Advent Calendar, and finally, Babor’s festive Advent Calendar featuring 24 ampoules from its collection, resulting in healthy, hydrated, and glowing skin, just in time for the Holidays.  Who says we can’t celebrate all year long?

I definitely have my Babor favourites, but I’m looking forward to adding some new products to the list.  Brands that go out of their way to let customers know that they truly matter are more than worthy of a mention, and I’m pleased to do that here.  Thank you so much!

Bearing Witness to History: Eight Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today, I was fortunate to be in Washington DC for the first inauguration of Barack Obama.  How and why this came to pass is something that is known and understood by those who are closest me, but it suffices to say that a decision to be an active participant in history was a big part of it.  It is an experience that will always be with me, and is, perhaps, one of the most important things I have ever done.  Words seem insufficient to describe the magnitude of what it means to be a witness to history; it is truly humbling.

It is equally difficult to begin to describe what that sunny day in Washington was like; one that seemed less about political parties and more about people, community, and the new days ahead.  Although not everyone had voted for the incoming President, the sense of excitement and pride was clear.  I’ve never seen so many exuberant people in one place; teary eyed, with open hearts, raising their voices to be heard.

From my vantage point on the parade route, I listened to the ceremony as it echoed over the speaker system, alongside tens of thousands of others.  I remember thinking that the solemn silence of the crowd at that moment seemed almost eerie, as if in some other world, time, and place.  Maybe, they too where thinking about being in the presence of history that children would learn about hundreds of years from now.

How much our world has experienced since then.  I recently listened to the archive of a radio interview that I did on that day and was struck my comments: so much happiness was in the air; pride, togetherness, inspiration.  The call to action and responsibility for making the world a better place were met with careful contemplation.  “What’s it like to be there?”, I was asked.  “It’s great”, I said “people are so excited.  What more can I say?”, I wondered aloud.

I remember observing people of all ages connecting with one another in a way that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since.  The crowd wasn’t one of strangers; it was humanity, and they were there to be humbled, to bear witness, to celebrate.  The roar on Pennsylvania Avenue was so loud as the motorcade approached, I could barely hear the reporter’s questions, but yet, I can remember it all now like it was yesterday (my time at the National Press Club moments later left me feeling equally awestruck, but that’s another story).

As an advisor, I’ve found that groups have a much better opportunity for success when they can find common ground; areas where they recognize that they are more similar than they are different.  In adversarial times, it can be difficult to find this state of mind, and I’ve been met with more than one blank stare or dead silence over the years when suggesting “why not collaborate?”, “why not talk to them?”, “why not listen?”  What’s inspiring, though, are times when those around the table see this opportunity, understand it, and are motivated to take action.  This mindset, even in some small way, reminds me of what I saw between strangers in the crowd on that special day, all those years ago.

Season’s Greetings!

Wishing you a wonderful Holiday season, and prosperity, health, and happiness in 2017!

A special thank you to everyone I have worked with this year; it’s been a pleasure to play a role in your success!

Jenifer Bartman

New Beginnings

Since leaving my executive role in the venture capital industry in 2008, I’ve been busy. After selling our business, I returned to my consulting roots, bringing along the valuable lessons I learned as a venture capitalist: all about building great companies. The result has been practical solutions for a host of entrepreneurs and business leaders, and I’ve approached my work in the way that I would appreciate as a client, having played a key role in growing, managing, and exiting a company myself.

Somewhere along the way, I was inspired to raise my voice and share some of the many experiences I’ve had, through articles, courses, webinars, books, and presentations. I’ve found that I have a lot to say, and my catalogue of published work has expanded as a result. Clients tend to find that the scenarios I write about seem oh, so familiar, with some wondering if I’m writing about them. The truth is, there are many similarities in what leaders encounter in the course of building a business, a fact that tends to be reassuring. It’s this experience that I’ve been able to tap into, bringing practical solutions to resolve issues and support future growth.

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Fast-forward to 2015, when I realized that it was high time to re-launch my website, to capture the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I have to share. I’ve organized my website to reflect the main areas in which I focus: Work (business advisory services), Speak (presentations and seminars), Learn (courses, books, and webinars), as well as lots of information about my background. In this blog, you will find an archive of some of my published work, with lots more to come going forward.

Like the “behind the scenes” photo I’ve included here, we’re bringing a whole new style to the business advisory world! Being in business is all about opportunities, and in a competitive world, someone should benefit; why not your company? So, welcome to my website; I invite you to have a look around and be in touch to discuss how I can help your business.