Archive

Archive for the ‘Blocher Ch 11’ Category

How Companies Can Make Better Decisions

October 31st, 2010 Comments off

Here is an interesting video from HBR that explores decision-effectiveness within companies.  Marcia Blenko is a co-author of Decide and Deliver: Five Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization and she shares the framework of some concepts in the book in this video.  In particular, there is a 4-point framework to measuring companies on decision-making skills:

  1. Quality decision making
  2. Quick/timely decision making
  3. Executing decisions
  4. Effort spent on decision-making and execution

Most of our course is about decision-making and it really is what separates the winners from the losers in the “real world.”  Too many companies focus on decision-making as an afterthought or a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to excel.  Setting up the corporate culture to foster strong decision-making and execution is important to long-term success.  Many companies focus on “big decisions” but the cumulative effect of all of the daily decisions is probably a bigger place to focus and effectiveness in this area needs to “just happen” as the result of systems encouraging it.

http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/10/how-companies-can-make-better.html

Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions

October 13th, 2010 Comments off

Decision making is a key component of strategic management accounting.  Nearly everything we discuss in class has to do with getting information so that people can make better decisions.  As I’ve posted before, however, there is a risk of information overload where filtering out irrelevant information becomes more important than having enough information to make a decision.  Also, a recent piece highlighted that consumers have an easier time making purchases if they have fewer choices.  In fact, having too many choices makes it less likely that they will purchase anything.

In that context, I found a recent Wall Street Journal article very interesting because it highlights the fact that people with certain personality types have a harder time making decisions.  Those that have high levels of ambivalence find it more uncomfortable and more difficult to make decisions. 

If there isn’t an easy answer, ambivalent people, more than black-and-white thinkers, are likely to procrastinate and avoid making a choice, for instance about whether to take a new job, says Dr. Harreveld. But if after careful consideration an individual still can’t decide, one’s gut reaction may be the way to go.

In contrast, people that see the world as black and white and that can easily fall on one side of an issue have an easier time making decisions, but whether or not those decisions are “better” decisions is less clear.   A certain amount of ambivalence is necessary and desired in leaders so that all points of view and options are considered but too much seems to indicate that negative aspects fog the view of the decision maker:

Every job has good and bad elements. But people who aren’t ambivalent about their job perform well if they like their work and poorly if they don’t. Dr. Ziegler suggests that black-and-white thinkers tend to focus on key aspects of their job, such as how much they are getting paid or how much they like their boss, and not the total picture in determining whether they are happy at work.

Black-and-white thinkers similarly may recognize that there are positive and negative aspects to a significant relationship. But they generally choose to focus only on some qualities that are particularly important to them.

By contrast, people who are truly ambivalent in a relationship can’t put the negative out of their mind. They may worry about being hurt or abandoned even in moments when their partner is doing something nice, says Mario Mikulincer, dean of the New School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

The conclusions in this article would seem to indicate that the “typical accountant” would be better at decisions than most since most accountants I know fall squarely in the “black and white” camp.  Still, I know from personal experience that I have a really hard time making decisions (even trivial ones) even though I see myself as a black and white, non-ambivalent thinker.  Perhaps my own view of myself is out of touch with reality or maybe I just don’t fit the mold…in either case there is a lesson here as well that things that apply broadly to populations may not apply to individuals within that population. 

The bottom line is that knowing how you approach decisions is as important as having facts to make a decision.  Being able to see the whole picture while still making a timely, effective choice is the key to those in leadership positions.  Before one can get to that point, he/she has to know that different decision personalities exist so that they can take measures to move to a better place where decision making is concerned.  Even after reading this article several times I’m still not sure what conclusion one is supposed to take from it…maybe it is just that I can’t “decide” what the article is about?!  Still I find it interesting to ponder the points in the article and I think that is enough reason to share it here. 

Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions. Shirley S. Wang. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Sep 28, 2010. pg. D.1 

Volkswagen to make U.S. push

October 5th, 2010 Comments off

The Wall Street Journal today has an excellent front-page article documenting some missteps made by Volkswagen in the United States market that has resulted in VW claiming a paltry 2.2% market share along with plans to turn that around in an effort to become the world’s largest automaker by the end of the decade. One of the ideas being implemented is designing, for the first time, a car to specifically meet American tastes rather than selling what works in Europe in North America in nearly identical form.  This is interesting to me because I’ve read elsewhere that Ford is taking the opposite approach trying to produce car models that are virtually identical no matter where in the world they are sold.  VW also risks, in the process, alienating the small but devoted following that it currently has.

“A lot of people worry that we are going to start making VWs for the masses,” says Mark Barnes, VW’s U.S. chief operating officer. “I like to say we’re going to bring the masses to VW.”

The retooled compact sedan marks the first time VW engineers have designed a model specifically for the U.S.

Next year, a new family-size sedan is scheduled to roll off the assembly lines at a newly built $1 billion plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. It is VW’s first U.S.-made car since the 1980s. On its heels comes a revamped New Beetle.

“I am fully aware that Volkswagen was too cautious for too long in North America,” Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said at a test-driving event for the new Jetta in San Francisco this summer. His remark was a nod to the car maker’s decades-long penchant for deploying cars designed for European tastes across the Atlantic. That left its U.S. operations with models too small and expensive to go head-to-head with Asian and American rivals. Now, he vowed, “we have turned that upside down.”

Adding to the challenge is the constant change at the top in VW’s American operations:

Adding to the challenge is an unanticipated switch at the helm of VW’s U.S. operations.

In June, Stefan Jacoby, a blunt-spoken German who took to wearing cowboy boots to dealer meetings and car shows, left his post as U.S. chief to become Volvo Cars’ new chief executive. His departure came just a week after he presented the new Jetta at a splashy launch party in Manhattan’s Times Square featuring pop singer Katy Perry. VW bosses scrambled much of the summer to fill the void left by a key architect of its American comeback strategy.

Mr. Jacoby’s replacement, former General Motors executive Jonathan Browning, is new to the U.S. market, having spent most of his career at GM’s European operations and managing Jaguar under Ford Motor Co.

Some U.S. dealers complain that the revolving door of U.S. chiefs—Mr. Jacoby was the third to go in five years—reflects a culture at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, that views the U.S. as a career way station, or worse, graveyard.

Assuming that the leadership and design challenges can be met, there is still the issue of getting Americans to notice.  Marketing has been ramped up to target certain demographics such as Hispanics and families, but the results thus far appear to be mixed.  Before reading this article, I didn’t even know that Volkswagen offered a minivan even though my family purchased a Toyota Sienna less than a year ago. In an interesting partnership with Chrysler, VW rabadges the American van as it’s own with some minor tweaks but production had to be halted due to low sales.

After dropping plans for a modern version of its Microbus for fear it would be too niche and costly, it signed a deal with Chrysler to modify and rebrand the U.S. car maker’s Town & Country minivan under the VW Routan name. VW tightened the minivan’s suspension, gave it a sleeker front end and kept it in the same price range as the Chrysler. With an ad blitz featuring Brooke Shields, it aimed to capture 5%, or 45,000, of the 700,000 annual minivan market.

But the Routan’s launch coincided with the auto industry’s nose dive in late 2008. So many of them sat unsold on VW dealer lots last year that the auto maker asked Chrysler, which builds them at its Windsor, Ontario, plant, to temporarily halt production. While much of the rest of the minivan market has rebounded, Routan sales have slipped 0.8% to 12,539 vans so far this year, one-seventh of the number of Town & Country sales in the same period.

VW officials argue that the Routan has enabled them to sell to a key new customer segment. The company still expects the Routan’s market share to grow as more consumers become aware of it as a minivan option.

But Casey Gunther, VW’s top-selling U.S. dealer, says the Routan isn’t what people expect from VW.

“It’s like someone trying to sell you a piece of chicken and claiming it was a steak,” Mr. Gunther says.

VW, he argues, could achieve its 800,000 sales target, “but we need to elevate the brand with products that play up our heritage,” such as the Microbus concept or VW’s sporty Scirocco, which it sells only in Europe. “There are so many people out there who love the lifestyle VW represents,” Mr. Gunther says. “I’m worried we’ve turned into a follower and not the leader.”

There are countless other great examples in this article that address things we discuss in class like strategy, international competition, product design, and more.  It is not a short piece, but is well worth the read when you have 10-15 minutes.  Seeing where things are at in 2, 5, or 10 years will be even more interesting.

Volkswagen Aims At Fast Lane in U.S.. Vanessa Fuhrmans. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Oct 5, 2010. pg. A.1

A Better Choosing Experience

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Photo credit: verbeeldingskr8 on flickr

When we discuss decisions in detail we will discuss the importance of filtering out the relevant information from the irrelevant. As I’ve written about before, people today are overwhelmed with information but the cognitive ability to process information is pretty much where it was 100 years ago.

This leads us to a strategy+business piece posted today that takes the position that limiting choices to customers can be a successful strategy for businesses:

Consumers have grown accustomed to having a lot of choice, and many people still express a strong desire for having more options. But that doesn’t make it a good idea. There are neurological limits on humans’ ability to process information, and the task of having to choose is often experienced as suffering, not pleasure.

That is why, rather than helping consumers better satisfy their preferences, the explosion of choice has made it more difficult overall for people to identify what they want and how to get it. Thus, if the market for your product is saturated with choice, you can’t gain a competitive edge by dumping more choices into the mix. Instead, you can outthink and outperform your competitors by turning the process of choosing into an experience that is more positive and less mind-numbing for your customers. You can design a more helpful form of choice.

Even limiting choices internally to employees can have benefits, even in the case of investment options in retirement plans that, at least to me, seems counter-intuitive (I would think that more choices would equal more participation)

We see this frustrated response to “choice overload” even when the decision has serious consequences. For example, in 2001, at the request of Steve Utkus, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at the Vanguard Group, Iyengar and her collaborators, Wei Jiang and Gur Huberman, tried to determine why so few of the 900,000 employees covered by Vanguard were participating in their defined-contribution retirement savings plans — also known as 401(k) plans. Analysis of the data revealed that participation fell significantly as the average number of funds in a plan rose. By controlling for individual-level variables such as age and income, as well as plan-level variables such as the size of the company and the extent of employer matching contributions, Iyengar and her collaborators showed that the decline in average participation rates was due to an increase in choice. When plans offered only two funds, 75 percent of the relevant employees participated; when plans offered 59 funds, the percentage of participants fell to 61 percent.

Read more of this long piece at:

A Better Choosing Experience. When consumers are overwhelmed with options, marketers should give them what they really want: ways of shopping that lower the cognitive demands of choosing. By Sheena Iyengar and Kanika Agrawal. strategy+business.  September 27, 2010

“Bolt-on” Merger Deals Dominate Business Scene

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Piggybacking on the Southwest/AirTran piece I posted earlier, here is a video piece from The Wall Street Journal that touches on that strategic move along with few others.

Southwest Airlines to Acquire AirTran

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Spreading Low Fares Farther | Southwest Airlines to Acquire AirTran Holdings, Inc..

See the link above for the official website related to the buyout of AirTran by Southwest.  There are numerous news reports as well that you can read elsewhere.

Photo credit: Brenden Schaaf taken September 29, 2010 at MSP using a BlackBerry Bold

Probably the biggest way this story relates to our class is in the value chain discussion with Southwest obviously feeling that they needed expand to remain competitive.  Specifically, news reports I have read and heard have indicated that Southwest had a desire to expand and/or enter the Atlanta, New York City, Orlando, and Milwaukee markets.  A year ago, Southwest was seen a suitor for Midwest Airlines but they lost out in that attempt to expand to Frontier Airlines.

Mega-mergers are the pattern in the airline industry these days following tie-ups by Delta/Northwest and United/Continental.  It will be very interesting to watch how Southwest proceeds as they try to avoid the negative aspects of mergers that have plagued many companies including other airlines (such as America West and US Airways).  Southwest probably has the most unique culture of all airlines with a playful, fun way of dealing with customers.  Anyone that has ever flown Southwest can tell you that you will not mistake it for a legacy carrier.  Culture clash is a common reason for merger failures…Southwest will have to be careful to avoid the traps associated with this as they proceed.

Another challenge will be how Southwest integrates aircraft and frequent flier programs at AirTran into the Southwest fleet and system.  Southwest is known for flying only Boeing 737 aircraft to make maintenance and other issues easier, while AirTran flies Boeing 717 aircraft in addition to 737s.  Perhaps this is a strategy for Southwest to branch out to different, but related, types of aircraft.

Another issue that will be interesting is how Southwest configures the AirTran aircraft post-acquisition.  AirTran has a small First Class cabin on most (all?) planes and they likely attract a certain segment of the business traveler population that is accustomed to the additional services provided.  Will Southwest risk alienating business travelers by going to the “cattle call” seating that they have today once they acquire AirTran and enter markets like Atlanta where there is a loyal business traveler following?  Will business travelers defect to Delta, which is also based in Atlanta?  Perhaps they already have?

Stay tuned to this situation in the months to come.  There will be lots of examples in the news related to what we discuss in class.

Other links to news about this story:

How Tim Hortons will take over the world

September 24th, 2010 Comments off

This is a great article that highlights a lot of the topics we cover in class.  It is quite long, but worth your time if you have 15-20 minutes to read and think about a variety of things including:

  • The strategic decision made by Tim Hortons to take control of coffee roasting by moving that operation in-house.  Like we discussed in the early chapter of the Blocher textbook, sometimes controlling quality (probably the biggest factor for this company), delivery schedules, etc. necessitates a move in-house even when it may cost more.

If you were a Tim Hortons devotee back then, you might have noticed that the coffee in, say, Halifax didn’t taste quite the same as it did in the chain’s spiritual home base of Hamilton. That’s because the chain bought its coffee from third-party roasters. Then-CEO Paul House decided the company needed to take control of the consistency of its brew, and to that end built a lab at the firm’s Oakville HQ.

  • The tweaks necessary when a successful company moves to new markets.  In Canada, Tim Hortons is the king of the market.  The article references, though, difference between Western Canada and Eastern Canada and then spends a lot of time looking at ways that they are trying to crack the American market as they expand into new areas in the East & Midwest.

In 2008, Tim Hortons undertook what David Clanachan, Tim Hortons’ jovial head of U.S. and international operations, calls “a deep dive,” surveying tens of thousands of people about what would get them through the door of a Tim Hortons. The company built a full-sized model store in a warehouse in Oakville, spending months testing and refining the concept before rolling it up, so to speak, to the gates of Troy.

The result is a cross between the likes of Starbucks and the Tim’s Canadians know. “Not that I’m gonna hang around, write poetry and sing songs,” says Clanachan, “but I am gonna feel comfortable.”

  • The focus on quality as a competitive advantage as highlighted by the frequent “cupping” sessions that even involve some senior executives.  The management team realizes that without quality, Tim Hortons has no competitive advantage:

Consistency is key—both Schroeder and West never tire of that axiom. Achieving it is tricky, since coffee from a particular mountainside will not taste the same from season to season. Flavours change depending on the weather: too much rain or too little, more sun or less. The mercurial nature of the bean means that Tim’s coffee team is constantly revising the secret blend to maintain its trademark flavour.

  • The breakeven-point ramifications of the “Always Fresh” program where the cost of individual products (the article mentions donuts) is higher on a per-unit basis, but the hope was that the benefits of not running out of goods and with not having to discard stale product would offset this.  It seems like that hasn’t happened, at least in the eyes of some franchisees.

For 37 years, standard Tim Hortons stores were equipped with in-store kitchens, where staff bakers produced batches of fresh, hot doughnuts twice a day. Shortly after Joyce sold his Tim Hortons stake in 2001, the company brokered a deal with Ireland’s IAWS Group to build the $75-million Maidstone facility. Then-CEO House promised franchisees that the conversion—which cost store owners between $35,000 and $50,000—would boost their bottom line. Instead of letting unsold doughnuts go stale during downtimes, operators would be able to zap new batches as needed, in a glorified microwave oven. Voilà—“fresh-baked” in two minutes. And though the cost of producing one doughnut would change from eight or nine cents to 12 cents, that increase would be offset by a reduction in operating costs—no highly paid bakers on the payroll, less discarded product.

  • The value-chain relationships between Tim Hortons and its franchisees.  There are pending lawsuits between the parties and it is interesting that two groups that are so dependent on each other find themselves locked in these kinds of battles.

Still, it’s clear some franchisees have become disillusioned with Always Fresh. Arch Jollymore, a former high-ranking executive at Tim Hortons (and Joyce’s cousin), is seeking certification of a class-action lawsuit against the company. At issue: the impact of the Always Fresh conversion on franchisee margins. Jollymore and his wife, Anne (who owns a store in Burlington in her own right), are alleging breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. They are seeking damages of $1.95 billion.

  • The decision to centralize or decentralize decision-making.  Most franchise systems rely on strict centralization with standard signage, colors, marketing,etc.  Tim Hortons is selectively decentralizing certain things:

De Nardo leads a tour of Riese’s four other Tim Hortons counters at Penn Station, proudly pointing out the New York-only promotions—the only instance of non-standard advertising allowed in the chain. “It’s the New York mentality. We like to be a little on the edge.” Whenever he can, he steers clear of earnest in favour of funny. “Hell,” he says, “it’s doughnuts and coffee.” Hence Tea and Timbits (T&T—it’s dynamite!) and $5 dozens after 5. “And for New Yorkers, $5 is basically free.”

  • The impact of sourcing raw materials globally and the potential cost changes due to weather in parts of the world where coffee is grown:

“Central and South America are coming off the worst crop in 44 years,” West says as he slaps a sack of beans. And Colombia was deluged with rain for 16 months straight, diminishing crops. That has helped drive standard-grade coffee to a 12-year high of $1.75 (U.S.) per pound. The top-quality beans Tim Hortons buys—West says they compete with Starbucks for the finest Arabica beans on the market—are much pricier.

To read more (and please do!), visit this link: How Tim Hortons will take over the world – The Globe and Mail.

Vertical Integration is Back in Style

August 8th, 2010 Comments off
monopoly-outsource

Courtesy of Scott Ingram Photography on Flickr

I’ve written before about companies like Boeing and Pepsi that have sought more control over their products with the result being that they have purchased other value chain members.  Credit goes to a current (for another week) student, Kevin Hoese, for pointing out an article in today’s Star Tribune that focuses make vs. buy and vertical integration opportunities at Minnesota companies like Arctic Cat, 3M, and Toro.

Arctic has manufactured ATVs since 1995, but has been making the engines in Minnesota for only about four years and at the St. Cloud plant since 2007. The previous supplier, Suzuki Motor Corp., still makes Arctic’s snowmobile engines, but that too is about to change. Arctic has plans to move production of those engines, now built in Japan, to St. Cloud as well — a move that will add a still undisclosed number of jobs to the plant’s roster of 35 workers.

That control is even more difficult when plants are in far-flung corners of the world. “In a volatile economy like this one it is hard to be flexible when you’re sourcing things from half a world away,” Zimmerman said.

That was the case for Bloomington-based Toro Co., which used to buy wheels and tires for its snow throwers and mowers from a Chinese supplier but now produces them at a Toro facility in El Paso, Texas. “Over the past two years, with demand fluctuating down and then up, we need suppliers that are flexible and responsive in shorter windows,” said Judy Altmaier, vice president of operations. “Some of our off-shore suppliers are capable of supplying us with quality products at a competitive price, and are flexible in meeting our changing schedules. Others are not,”

Factors range from quality concerns to flexibility issues to rising costs of transportation, but whatever the reason, it seems that too many companies overestimated the ease with which they could outsource work to the other side of the globe.  Chances are that they overestimated the cost savings as well.  It will be interesting to watch the economy to see how much of this continues to happen in the next few years.  There certainly are skilled laborers in the United States that are looking for work and perhaps “onshoring” will be part of the answer to the high unemployment figures we see right now.

Of course there are some local companies that are hurt when their customers move some work in-house.  So the fact that more companies are doing work themselves isn’t the cure-all for everyone:

The move by manufacturers to do more work in-house has hurt some businesses that have been suppliers. Permac Industries, a Burnsville-based company that makes precision-machined parts for a variety of industries, saw its sales fall about 40 percent in 2009 partly because customers were doing more of that work themselves, said CEO Darlene Miller. She said she knows of other precision parts makers that experienced the same drop-off in business.

Still, for all the reasons we talk about when we discuss make or buy decisions it is important to weigh all of the factors before making business decisions about where to locate work.  For each company that has outsourced only to find that it isn’t working I suspect that there is a company doing something in-house that they really aren’t doing that well.  Sometimes it is better to focus on core competencies and let others do whatever falls outside that boundary.

Read more at:

In a shift, more companies deciding to make, not buy: Many manufacturers are reversing the decades-old outsourcing trend, preferring to build more parts in-house. Susan Feyder. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Washington: Aug 8, 2010.

Five Ways Pixar Makes Better Decisions

July 16th, 2010 Comments off

Here is a short read previewing an upcoming book about companies that make great decisions.  Having an advantage at decision making over competitors can make for a huge advantage in the marketplace as products reach c0nsumers more quickly, quality is higher, and employees are happier in these kinds of organizations.

We think that organizations with good judgment have a number of typical attributes. One is that they involve a number of different people in making important decisions. Their senior executives keep in mind that they don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and judgment and therefore involve multiple people in decision processes.

The short blog post linked below highlights how some things work at Pixar that are part of their “high-quality decision making culture.”  Furthermore, it is easy to pick out some things like Pixar University and manager autonomy that relate to things like the Learning & Growth perspective of the balanced scorecard that we have discussed in class.

Read more at: Five Ways Pixar Makes Better Decisions – Tom Davenport – Harvard Business Review.

Toyota Changes How It Develops Cars

July 11th, 2010 Comments off

Here is a very timely article about how Toyota is challenging its engineers to focus on quality at the design phase to avoid issues later on.  As mentioned in class with regard to quality and costs, often the best (or only) place to make changes that have a true impact is at the design phase.

Toyota Motor Corp. is stretching out how long its new models are tested before they go into production and reducing the number of outside engineers it uses in a bid to overcome a spate of quality problems.

Randy Stephens, a senior Toyota engineer based in Ann Arbor, Mich., said company executives recognize that there were quality issues with the last generation of vehicles, which were developed while the company was in a global-growth mode. Executives began talking about making changes nearly a year ago, he said, but the recent recall problems have spurred the company to act.

Toyota is going to increase the lead time for development but also simply the number of options (on such things as engines) to make the focus of the engineers.  Interestingly enough, the article mentions that costs will increase but obviously Toyota feels that the benefits of increased quality will outweigh this cost increase.

In addition to extending product-development lead times, Mr. Uchiyamada and his engineering team have decided to cut the number of engine and other key-feature variants and options to simplify and narrow the scope of engineering work, allowing engineers to focus more on quality.

Toyota may also further reduce the use of virtual engineering and begin using more vehicle prototypes. Doing so extends development time and increases costs.

And finally, my last observation is with Toyota bringing certain work back in-house that they have been outsourcing.  Recall that when we talked about decision making and make/buy situations that quality concerns were one of the non-financial factors that companies need to consider before decided to outsource.  It seems that Toyota feels that they can do a better job themselves rather than farming out this work.

The company is also working to bring development work that had been sourced to outside engineers back inside. Some outside engineers actually work side by side with Toyota’s engineers inside Toyota research and development centers. But using contractors has led to a breakdown in communication and potential misunderstandings, Mr. Stephens said.

Toyota Alters Car Development — After Quality Problems, It Stretches Out Testing of New Models, Cuts Number of Outside Engineers. Mike Ramsey, Norihiko Shirouzu. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Jul 6, 2010. pg. B.1