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Best Buy’s Best Bet

I just read an article about Best Buy’s struggle in the current economy. There were a lot of comments about what direction they should take. I think its all about the price. Electronics are the same in every store, so you go where it is the least expensive. I like to browse at Best Buy, but often buy my products somewhere else. With a tight economy, people shop around and Best Buy’s prices are not usually the lowest. I recently bought an HP laptop for $299 from Frys Electronics. Best Buy had the same laptop for $399. They could add value by having very technical knowledgable staff, but they usually don’t know more than I do. Their weekly sales ads do not encourage me to visit either. They need to take a trick from Walmart. Offer a lost leader product to get you in the door, then sell you something else while you are there. Something that has a high profit margin like cables.

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/04/11/best-buy-turnaround-ideas-consumer-electronics/#

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It seems that in a corporate environment, there are three outcomes to the many different management styles that result in training employees behavior.

Chaos ensues with a very loose management and lack of accountability. Employees march to their own drummer. All of them may mean well, but like a in a rowboat, rowing in different directions gets you nowhere. Standards are non-existent the problems run rampant. These employees need direction.

Fear is an obvious one to spot. These emloyees have been trained through painful experience that sticking your neck out gets it chopped off. Usually as a result of an authoritarian manager, these employees do not innovate or think outside the box because mistakes are not tolerated and you can’t be creative with new solutions without making a few mistakes. So things don’t improve and everyone spends most of their time making defensive or protective moves.

The middle ground here is where you want your employees to be, empowered. These employees have a clear direction and standards to follow, but aren’t afraid to question current practices. The mind set should be Continuous Improvement. No matter how things are done today, there is always a better way. These changes to process and standards have to be implemented using a very deliberate and documented approach, but pointing out issues should be rewarded. You can’t improve if you don’t identify the problems.

No company is just one of these, but a mixture. You can spot these traits in individual departments and the managers method of management is probably the root cause. Unfortunately, the higher you go up the management chain, the more political things become. Jockeying for advantage becomes the focus and the employees that do all the work, don’t get the support they need. These traits get embeded in the culture and are difficult to change because trust is earned over time and people don’t change behavior unless they can trust the response.

Most organizations recognize that their Project Management maturity is not what they would like it to be.  They may even have a vision as to where the organization should be for successful implementations.  After all, noone really questions the fact that increased project management maturity improves the odds of project success.  The problem is often not with the identification of the problem, but with implementation of the solution.  The typical response to solving this problem is to dive into PMI, Six Sigma, or CMMI and start creating mountains of methodology, processes, and templates.  All of these methods are very valuable if implemented wisely, but frustrating and distracting if implemented poorly.  The first step in maturing an organization is to validate and document the “As-Is” model.  Knowing how things are done today is required because you can’t measure improvement if you don’t know where you started.  Also, going from a very immature organization to an optimized maturity focussing on continuous improvement is not one step up and should not be attempted in one step.  Organizations need to understand that process and maturity changes are best accomplished through baby steps!  The hidden gotcha in these improvements is the company culture.  To improve process and mature management, the culture has to change and culture change is like manuevering an aircraft carrier.  It takes careful planning, persistence, and time. Planning to make drastic changes in methodology in a short time period can be mandated by upper management, but saying it and doing it is not the same thing.  Another factor in this challenging endeavor is the motivation of the employees.  If they do not see the benefit of the changes being made, it just seems like busy work to them.  Good employees don’t like busy work.  They like to be productive.  Small, deliberate changes pin pointed to show success can motivate people to get on the bandwagon and look for opportunities themselves.  These improvements can happen and do happen, but don’t fool yourself into thinking they happen overnight.  Remember, baby steps!

I just read an article about integrating IT into the business units and dissolving IT as a stand-alone department. The article is at this URL:

http://www.itworldcanada.com/Pages/Docbase/ViewArticle.aspx?id=idgml-de79fbf7-5521-45c8&portal=e92e3ad5-e795-42e5-a1a7-2949dfb40789&sub=1535558

The problem with this stance is that it has a “one size fits all” mentality. The reason that IT’s role in an organization has flip-flopped through the years is that there are pros and cons to both if they are implemented as all or nothing choice. We must begin to mature our thinking about IT, especially in an economic downturn. There are cases where having some IT skill sets in the business departments makes sense, but completely dissolving IT loses the benefits of centralization. What really needs to change is not the organization, but the employees. We need Product Managers who also have a Business Analyst skillset. We need Project Managers who understand the business needs and the technical knowledge to bridge the communication gaps. Just having IT sit next to and report to business leaders is not enough. We need to start cross training employees to understand both worlds. Each will have their specialty, but they need a shared understanding of what the company needs to not only survive, but thrive.  Job descriptions need to be guidelines more than rules.  If a business employee has the interest and capacity to learn a technical new skill set, then they should be allowed to do so.  For that matter, IT skillsets should not be limited either.  The days of “I’m a DBA and that is all I do” need to be over.  DBA’s need to understand the data that they manage.  Server Admins need to understand the business applications that they impact.  Business leaders need to be involved in IT decisions, because if there is a risk to take in the implementation, they should be the one to take it.  Let’s call it “The Brave New World”!  Wait, that’s been taken.  How about just plain common sense.

I just watched the demo of Google Wave. This is a pretty impressive collaboration and messaging tool in one. It takes email, instant messaging, and blogs and rolls them into one slick interface. It also allows collaboration from multiple people at the same time editing the same document. You can add pictures by dragging and dropping, post content to a blog with a single click, and all of it is open source. In fact, Google is encouraging developers to start coding for the tool now so that when the tool is released, there will already be some amazing content developed against the API’s. This is one of those tools that change the way you communicate and think about communicating! I can’t wait. To preview Wave, visit http://wave.google.com/.

Microsoft’s Release Candidate for Windows 7 is now available.  Is it time for corporate America to upgrade the thousands of PC’s within their companies?  Most of the larger companies I know chose not to upgrade to Vista.  The Vista OS simply was too problematic and did not have enough enhancements to make the upgrade worthwhile.  Besides, it took us 18 months to complete the Windows XP upgrade not long before.  Is Windows 7 different?  From what I have seen and read, the OS does seem to have fixed the obvious issues that Vista had.  Keep in mind that what everyone is testing is not Gold code yet, but it is pretty solid, which is a very good sign.  Any large organization that has an enterprise agreement with Microsoft probably has already paid for the licensing, but the impact of an upgrade is disruptive at the least.  Windows 7 has basically the same interface that Vista had, so there is a learning curve for employees, unless of course you assume that most employees have home computers, most of them running Vista by now.  If you make this assumption, then employee training is not a huge issue.  Companies could choose to run a mixed environment and just put Windows 7 on any new PC.  This model would allow a slow transition, of course we don’t know what compatibility issues may be introduced and your support teams would have to support and test everything on two operating systems.  I have a feeling that most companies will bite the bullet and upgrade, if for no other reason than to take advantage of the security improvements in Windows 7.  Only time will tell, but this could be a spotlight moment for Microsoft.

Hulu and The Walt Disney Company recently announced that Disney, through a subsidiary of ABC Enterprises Inc., has agreed to join NBC Universal, News Corporation and Providence Equity Partners as a joint venture partner and equity owner of Hulu.  This means that Disney now owns 27% of Hulu, the online video streaming web site.  Although Disney will act cautiously when posting traditional cable content to the site, it is the beginning of a very impactful change to the cable industry.  Now that Disney is part of the Hulu family, which includes ABC and ESPN, the content potential is enourmous.  Since Hulu’s business model is based on ads for revenue instead of a subscription cost, it means free content to consumers.  Right now, you don’t even have to register on the site unless you want to watch “R” rated programs.  There is also talk of a premium service offering on Hulu.  I am assuming this means watching the content without the adds, which are required today. I think we are a long way from the masses cancelling their cable service for online alternatives, but there are some that have already chosen that path.  Hulu, along with other alternatives like Apple TV, TV.com and YouTube, is very quickly making the options more viable.  The cable industry is offering intergrated services to add value, such as programming your Tivo with your cell phone or checking voicemail on your TV.  The question is, what will strike a chord with consumers?