Category Archives: Management

Grand Strategy

Elsewhere someone asked me about corporate strategy. Here is my reply:

Maybe with age, I’ve become more cynical but it’s a fact that “the victor writes the history”. True, “sound” strategies have a better chance of success but history is also littered by lots of failures simply because of bad timing and/or the x-factor called “luck”. For example when Alibaba was launched, if suddenly there’s a world war, the world will never know of its “success”. That’s an extreme, but I’m sure you know of some factual “hard luck” stories of some really deserving guys who failed because of some inexplicable misfortune; not because of any flaw in their strategies.

Having said that, I first heard the “Be first, if not be better, otherwise be different” credo at a conference some 30 years ago maybe, presented by the CEO or Marketing Director of the local soft drinks plant here. At that time it sounded so profound to me that I adopted it as my credo too. It certainly sums up neatly what marketing is all about and may still be a good guide. But look where is the local soft drinks plant today?

What may be today’s strategic trend will be tomorrow’s no-no. For example, “conglomerates” was a hot strategic move in the 50-60’s but was discredited in the 70’s. But conglomerates are still thriving in Malaysia even now. So are the conglomerates in Malaysia considered a good strategic corporate structure?  The answer is “timing”. Good yesterday, bad today… may be good tomorrow. Eg. Companies like Apple outsource their manufacturing to dedicated EMS (electronic manufacturing services) companies. But then one day the EMS finds itself at the mercy of its big customers. So it creates its own brand, engages in marketing its own products too and in time the cycle begins again.

“Timing” and the x-factor “Luck”. If the Force is not with you, no amount of smart strategies can help you. Maybe it’s a Karma thing after all.

What Promo? What a Shame! (5)

Another marketing lesson.

The Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Note2 mania hit our shores recently.

While my better half settled for the Samsung Galaxy S3, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the iPhone 5 which I had been waiting for over a year. And what better time to get it than when the service providers are all trying hard to outdo each other with their better plan? But here’s where my nightmarish experience began.

Initially I thought of changing from my current service provider to “M”, as my limited research seemed to indicate that M’s offer was better.  Off I went to Sunway Pyramid and found long queues at M’s outlet there. This was more or less expected since apparently M was the more popular of the service providers. The staff asked, “Are you an existing M-customer?  No, then please fill in the waiting list here.” I noticed that there was also a long list of existing customers as well. I figured that I’ll have a long, long wait coming. My fear was confirmed when the next day at IOI Mall, it was the same story at the M’s outlet there.

I resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have to stick to my service provider and so the next day I went to my current service provider’s branch in State New Town. First impression was very good. The receptionist there greeted me nicely and when I told her that I am an existing customer who wants to upgrade to the new iPhone 5 plan, she indicated that I was to go to the next available counter, apparently beating the queue like I was a VIP. Unfortunately it all went downhill after that. The girl at the counter attending to me had to hunt a bit for the special iPhone 5 plan to show me. Hey! This is supposed to be the latest, hottest deal for C this year…and no proper plan? I looked at it and enquired what data rates do I get for each of the plans in the list. She didn’t know and spent the next 10 minutes or so, hunting for the info. And there was no glossy brochure, just another photocopy. I asked a further question and realised that I’m better off studying the info myself. I then decided on a package and asked for a white 64GB unit. Another 5 minutes later….disappointment, no white 64GB unit; only black. OK, OK, I’ll take it. Then I spent the next 15 minutes twiddling my thumbs. She was running around talking to various people and then came to tell me that maybe she quoted me the wrong price. I protested and she checked again and finally told me the system was not updated to print the receipt at the offer price! So will I accept a manual receipt? Yes, yes, I will. All in all, it took about 1-hour to handle my new purchase! Am I the first iPhone 5 customer, I asked? Yes! Hmmm.. Next, I just assumed that my contacts list from my old Nokia will be transferred to the iPhone, but horrors, no! Sorry, we don’t have the equipment to do that, she said. What!? Such a simple value-added service should have been a given. What a disappointment! OK, when will my new phone’s SIM card be activated? Within 2 hours, she said. Sigh! Never mind, I was still feeling euphoric clutching my new iPhone 5 (finally!) in my hand with great anticipation, I left for home.

Guess what? After 24-hours, the new SIM card was still not activated. Off I went back to the branch the next day. Long queues again. The receptionist said that I’ll have to wait. I asked her why couldn’t she just take my phone and enquire from a technician inside what’s wrong? Sorry, she said, I must go back to the same counter where I registered the phone for them to check. OK, so can I have a queue number? Sorry, she said, the machine “rosak”. So how is the crowd to know whose turn is next? Anyway, I managed to get to a counter eventually (not exactly proud of how I got there) and told the  girl there of my problem. She checked and said the system was down yesterday; another “Rosak”. Wow! OK, she then managed to finally activate my phone,  after about 30 minutes of infuriating frustration.  I couldn’t help wondering how this service provider will be able to cope if they had as long a waiting queue as the other Service provider. More than 1 hour to register a new purchase/plan? More than a day to activate the SIM card?

So what promo? What a shame! Why don’t the Marketing Folks look into the details before launching a campaign? Sad.




What Promo? What A Shame! (4)

Yesterday I took my family for a treat at a fancy Western Restaurant on Bintang Walk. I was attracted by a large poster outside the reataurant promoting their alliance with a loyalty card. It said very clearly that members could get loyalty points or redeem their points in the restaurant.

Well, the three of us ordered our dinner and drinks, and I gave my loyalty card to the waiter and asked him to check my points for redemption against my dinner bill. After about 10 minutes, he brought my card back and said rather nonchalantly that their “machine is out of order and cannot check the card“.  I couldn’t believe it but held my peace.

After the meal, I went over to the cashier and said that I would like to check my loyalty card for my points. He swiped it and lo! the slip printed ourt my points! I told him that someone else told me that the machine was broken and my card could not be checked…but he said “no problem”. OK, so far so good. Next, I said that I want to redeem my points against my bill. The guy looked confused and off he went to get another guy who was obviously his supervisor. The second guy berated the first guy on the “right” procedure to swipe my loyalty card and my credit card and I thought to myself, “Good, here’s someone who knows his job!”.  That is..until I asked to redeem my points and he looked just as confused by my request as the first guy. He paused and then said that I could not redeem my points but he has credited the new points to my loyalty card. I pointed out to him that the poster outside clearly said that I could redeem my points in the restaurant…but he said that he does not know about that procedure.

I decided to let it go….but I wonder if the new points are even credited to my card at all!

Once again…..a grand promo plan but poor execution where the front-line staff have no clue as to what to do about the promo at all!

Do you have a similar experience? Tell us about it!

What’s Wrong With “Work Smart……”?

In all my induction training for new executives, I always pose this question, “Who believes in the saying, Work smart not work hard….?”

There’ll always be a few eager beavers who are quick to raise their hands while a few will eye me cautiously, sensing a catch somewhere, but not quite sure what it is.

I’ll tell them that it is a myth that one can get ahead by simply relying on the smarts without any hard work. There is always the prerequisite initial hard work, after which the law of diminishing returns kicks in. It is at that point that one should then work SMARTER and not merely HARDER.

I’ll explain that anyone who lives by the credo “Work smart, not work hard” is actually passing the buck; he/she is implying that if there is a sucker to do the task, why do it yourself? I’ll be personally offended if anyone in my Team mouths that phrase without thinking of its implication. However, I do expect my Team members all to be adept at thinking out-of-the-box and finding creative and innovative ways to be more effective and efficient, after putting in the prerequisite initial hard work, of course. We all need to be smarter and not merely labour on harder.




What Promo? What a Shame! (3)

There’s this prestigious charge card company that has an on-going sales promo with a shopping complex whereby you could redeem some gifts when your total purchases charged to the card reach or exceed a certain amount. Well, I am always a sucker for sales promo (otherwise how do you think I have all these stories?) and I promptly set out to ensure that all my purchases at that shopping complex would be charged to that card, together with my wife, the supplementary card holder.

So imagine my chagrin, when I am told by the Card Staff that we cannot combine our purchases as the card numbers are different. Hey, why not, after all the supplementary charges all appear on my single monthly statement and I pay all the bills.

I cannot help but think that the Marketeer’s intention is to encourage more purchases on the charge card and in that case, it would not matter whether the purchase are on the main card or the supplementary card. It is just a case of someone not paying attention to the DETAILS when designing the sales promo.

Don’t laugh….it could happen to YOUR sales promo, if no-one thinks through the details of the execution.

Care to share a similar experience? Tell us about it!

Forced Ranking…is it fair?

As a Manager, at some point in your career, you will be asked to force-rank your staff during annual appraisals.

No, you are told, you cannot have all ranked as “Very Good”…. you must force-rank them to have the whole company fall into some sort of bell-curve.

What’s wrong with that picture? Well, let’s answer that by first stating what’s right… yes, generally in a large enough population, people tend to fall into a bell-curve distribution. So what’s wrong with forced-ranking, where a Manager is told that he has to decide who among his team should be rated “Excellent”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Unsatisfactory”? Simple answer: first, you must fulfill the condition, “…in a large enough population”. Too often, the instruction, “Get them into a bell-curve” is given without considering that pre-condition.

In a small group of people, you may get anomalies whereby “too many” are rated in one or the other extemeties. Or where all are rated “too average”. OK, in that case, why shouldn’t you then force-rank them? You have to decide who among them is the “better” or the “worser” one. Yes, no problem…let’s force-rank them. Until you realise you have done your Team members a great disservice. Your company, or department or unit is one of many within the Parent organisation. When you forced-rank your limited size unit, your “Good” men are now clustered together with all the other “Good” men from other units. Hey, but that’s not right you say. You know for a fact that your “Good” man is much better than the other unit’s “Good” man. If compared together, your “Good” man (who may have been rated “Very Good” before the forced-ranking within your unit) should be “Very Good” compared to the other unit’s “Good”. But sadly, they are now rated the same and presumably get the same salary adjustment. That’s not fair, right?

So what’s wrong? The answer, I repeat, lies in a “….large enough population”. The Parent organisation ought to have all its employess placed in one common pool before force-ranking. You may have a super Team of 10 people who are now forced-rank to be placed in similar ranks as some other mediocre people.

Sad, but it happens too frequently.


What Promo? What a Shame! (2)

Recall that in “What Promo? What a Shame! (1)” I told you that I can vouch for the fact that sales promo contests are indeed real, or at least those that I have personally taken part in and won. Well, here’s the next story where I won a prize; 3rd prize to be exact.

I received a SMS informing me that I had won the 3rd prize in a contest. I duly phoned back and received the instructions on the day and time to collect my prize from the Store. You bet I was elated and looked forward to the appointment for the collection of the prize.

Come the day and there I was at the Store entrance to meet the staff who was supposed to give me the prize. I half-expected some sort of simple reception and maybe a photograph to be taken for the Store’s promotional use. With such a crowd at the Store, I thought that Management would take the opportunity to hand me the prize in full view of the shopping crowd so that people will know that the contest was real (don’t we all have doubts?). Instead, a staff approached me and after introduicng himself, he asked me to follow him to the Store’s office to collect the prize. Hmm…that was a bit disappointing, but never mind, let’s go get the prize!

The staff mumbeld a soft apologetic comment that we had to walk through the basement carpark to get to the Office. Oh never mind, let’s go! We walked quite a distance all across the basement carpark to the opposite end and then walked up four flights of stairs to the office! No-one else was there. No photographer. No happy greeting nor congratulations from any other staff or management. Sign here in a register to indicate that you have collected your prize (I saw that the first two prize winners had also signed in the register) and here you are…a carton with a number of items inside to make up the 3rd prize. And of course, I had to carry the carton down the four flights of stairs to put the prize in my car.

So here are the Management questions:

1. Why bother having a Sales Promo if you don’t capitalise on it to excite all the other shoppers to show them that the contest is real and here’s a real-life winner to prove it?

2. Why turn a happy occassion for a lucky winner into a dull, uneventful and inconvenient exercise?

3. Hey…where is the Marketeer or Store Manager?

The Management Learning Experience…..don’t let your Sales Promo end without any mileage and oomph!

Ever experienced a similar situation? Tell us about it!

Killing One’s Enemy With His Own Sword

I like to tell the Chinese parable of “Killing One’s Enemy With His Own Sword”

(or something like that…..I’m so handicapped by not knowing Mandarin!):

In ancient China, there were two powerful kingdoms equally matched. Each desired to
conquer the other. One of the Kings sent a spy into the other kingdom to gather
intelligence. The spy reported that the other King has 5 key men (Generals and
Ministers). Destroy the 5 key men and the kingdom is yours, advised the spy. So this King
set out to destroy the credibility of the 5 men by planting fake messages and information
for the other King to “accidentally” get his hands on. The second King thought that his 5
men were out to betray him and  summarily executed them. Needless to say, when the
decisive battle was fought, the second kingdom fell. So the first King succeeded in
destroying the second King using the latter’s own sword!

That’s the danger of paying attention to rumour-mongering and anonymous poison letters.
Powerful parable for Management and for life!

Update: 25-Oct-2012

“Whistle-blowing” is different in that a whistle blower is prepared to be identified and to testify after blowing the lid off a wrong-doing.

Whistle-blowing is good; rumour-mongering and anonymous poison letters are not!



What Promo? What a Shame! (1)

Have you ever wondered whether all those promotional contests with fabulous prizes are real? Well, the good news is that Yes, they are real. Or at least those that I have participated and won. But the stories I want to tell are not about the prizes I won, but rather they are Management tales for marketing folks to take note and learn.

The first story may be something that you have also experienced. Here you are at the checkout counter of a large Hypermarket paying for your items and the total bill comes to $29.80.The cashier without so much as a greeting or a thank you, just silently take your money and give you the change and gets on with serving the next customer. What’s wrong with this picture? OK, she’s a miser with greetings, so what? Well, you collect your items and exit the checkout counter….and that’s when you notice a poster promoting an in-store sales campaign. Buy $30.00 worth of goods and you will get a small freebie token as well as be eligible to take part in a simple contest with a $10,0000 prize. Your heart drops…you have just paid $29.80 and you are not qualified for the freebie nor for the contest. You confront the cashier and ask her why didn’t she tell you about the promo…she could have easily persuaded you to pick up an additional item (sweets, batteries, etc) so that your total bill could exceed $30.00. The cashier looks at you unapologetically and cannot understand what the fuss is all about.

So the questions to the Hypermarket Management are:

1. Why are the front-line staff not trained to help make the sales promo a better success instead of making customers feel short-changed and annoyed? After all, most customers will gladly top-up their purchases to make the minimum amount required for the freebie and contest.

2. Why isn’t the sales promo clearly displayed within the Store rather than merely outside the Store? As a Management learning experience, the above story could well be enacted in any otther sales setting and not just in a Hypermarket. So don’t laugh, it could happen in your sales organisation too! Has this happened to you before? As a Customer or as a Marketeer? Tell us about it.

More stories to follow…

Is there a Good Manager or a Bad Manager?

The terms “Good Manager” and “Bad Manager” are oxymorons.

A Manager manages; if he/she cannot manage, how is he/she then a Manager?

There is only either a Manager or an Idiot.

A Manager recognizes improved performances (cheers the Team) and areas for improvements (coaches the Team).
An Idiot only focusses on weaknesses and belabors them to completely demoralize the Team,