Friendship and Business

Americans like to think of themselves as friendly. Yet others find us impersonal and rushed. We come on too strong too fast; we are intimidating to some foreigners. We then fail to fulfill the implicitly promised friendship; we seem phony. In most parts of the world, friendships are slow to form, requiring tremendous commitment and attention over the long term. Anything less than the gradual and deliberate approach may be seen as insincerity, and insincerity compared to the seriousness with which friendships are taken elsewhere. Once formed, many foreign friendships are virtually permanent. And with the friendship come obligations, not only to help in emergencies, but to help in a number of ways the average American would consider entirely unreasonable.

The importance of relationships strongly affects the conduct of business. The foreigner needs to assess any business associate and most likely will make a deal not purely on the basis of the best price or product but rather on personal estimation. From Italy to China, extra personal involvement is important; many foreigners feel that if both parties can be friends, then business between them will flow naturally and smoothly.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Lectures, Line of Sight

Outline of Cross-cultural Analysis of Consumer Behavior

  1. Determine Relevant Motivations in the Culture: What needs are fulfilled with the product in the minds of members of the culture? How these needs are presently fulfilled? Do members of this culture readily recognize these needs?
  2. Determine Characteristic Behavior Patterns: What patterns are characteristic of purchasing behavior? What forms of division of labor exist within the family structure? How frequently the product of this type purchased? What size packages are normally purchased? Do any of these characteristic behaviors conflict with behavior expected for this product? How strongly ingrained are the behavior patterns that conflict with those needed for distribution of the product?
  3. Determine What Broad Cultural Values Are Relevant to This Product: Are there strong values about work, morality, religion, family relations, and so on that relate to the product? Does this product connote attributes that are in conflict with these cultural values? Can conflicts with values be avoided by changing the product? Are there positive values in this culture with which the product might be identified?
  4. Determine Characteristic Forms of Decision-making: Do members of the culture display a studied approach to decisions concerning innovations or an impulsive approach? What is the form of the decision process? Upon what information sources do members of the culture rely? Do members of the culture tend to be rigid or flexible in the acceptance of new ideas? What criteria do they use in evaluating alternatives?
  5. Evaluate Promotion Methods Appropriate to the Culture: What role does advertising occupy in the culture? What themes, words, or illustrations is taboo? What language problems exist in present markets that cannot be translated into the culture? What types of salesmen are accepted by members of the culture? Are such salesmen available?
  6. Determine Appropriate Institutions for This Product in the Minds of Consumers: What types of retailers and intermediary institutions are available? What services do these institutions offer that are expected by the consumer? What alternatives are available for obtaining services needed for the product but not offered by existing institutions? How are various types of retailers regarded by consumers? Will changes in the distribution structure be readily accepted?

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Line of Sight

Hiring Happy Employees

With all the apptitudes, skills, and traits for which managers can test applicants, there is still one thing that’s usually not tested for but that perhaps should be—at least if some recent research findings are valid. Particularly in companies being rocked by downsizings and competitive pressures, there’s something to be said about hiring people who are inclined to remain happy even in the face of unhappy events.

Basically, happiness seems to be largely determined by the person’s genetic makeup—that, in other words, some people are simply born to somewhat happier than others. The theory, in nutshell, says that people have a sort of “set point” for happiness, a genetically determined happiness level to which the person quickly tends to gravitate, no matter what failures or successes he or she experiences. So confront a high-happiness-set-point person with the prospect of a demotion or an unattractive leteral transfer, and he or she will soon return to being relatively happy once the short blip of disappointment has dissipated. On the other hand, send an inherently low-set-point, unhappy person off on a two-week vacation or give him or her a sizable raise or a new computer, and chances are he or she will soon be as unhappy as before the reward.

Like testing employees for any traits, coming up with a set of tests or interview questions to identify happier, high-set-point people requires careful consideration and probably the help of a qualified psychologist. However, the following might provide some insight into the tendency to be relatively happy:

Indicate how strongly (high, medium, low) you agree with the following statements:

  • “When good things happen to me, it strongly affects me.”
  • “I will often do things for no other reason than they might be fun.”
  • “When I get something I want, I feel excited and energized.”
  • “When I am doing well at something, I love to keep at it.”

Agreeing with more statements and agreeing with them more strongly may correlate with a higher happiness-set-point.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact, Line of Sight

Antiquated Strategic Planning

At one time, the view from the top of most corporations was strongly influenced by their leaders planning doctrine. Executives were taught that the best way to plan for a complex company into discrete components, called strategic business units. For a time this practice provided a helpful way to unbundle the corporation and to select strategies most appropriate to each unit’s individual situation.

Companies were best thought of as a portfolio of individual businesses: some brand-new and unproven, some growing rapidly and consuming great amounts of cash, some growing rapidly and generating the cash needed by the up-and-comers, and some out and out losers.

Strategic planners eventually carried the idea one step further. They developed formulas that appeared to identify the contribution each business unit was making to the company’s overall stock price. Called value-based planning (as in shareholder value), its application, along with techniques such as junk-bond-driven leveraged buyouts, helped de-conglomerate many corporate dinosaurs in the financial go-go years.

These planning techniques are logical and quantifiable, descriptive as well as perspective. They provide a seemingly attractive way for the head of an enterprise to put arms around what might have become an increasingly diverse array of businesses. But thinking of a corporation as if it were similar to a portfolio of stocks or other investments can also be very limiting and one dimensional.

This kind of thinking tends to overemphasize the uniqueness of each business and often assumes that all the competition in which the corporation is engaged occurs when its business units do battle with their counterparts in other companies. It suggests that the role of top corporate management is either secondary or passive with regard to competition. It also implies that top management’s role is primarily that of a banker to the individual strategic business unit, concerned chiefly with financial resource allocation, and that it adds value mainly through “balancing the portfolio” by buying or selling the strategic business units that make up the company.

This approach encourages a “trader’s mentality” on the part of top management. Traders like to buy and sell, conglomerate and de-conglomerate. But they do not know how very much about how to grow the company from within.

Decentralization, sometimes extreme decentralization, is also encouraged, because each business is expected to stand on its own, containing most of the resources it needs for its operations. This simplifies the job of top management. It has only to focus on each strategic business unit’s bottom line and consider the details of its operations on an exception-only basis.

But this simplification comes to a great cost. Stressing stand-alone uniqueness and managing through the blinders of short-term earnings results in living, growing business entities treated almost as if they were fragments of the company’s stock certificate. The disease of the stock markets—perspective that seldom extends beyond next quarter’s financials—is passed along to the company.

There is another danger when strategic business unit framework dominates corporate decision-making. This is the tendency to grow redundant resources in the company as each strategic business unit, over time, builds up all the functions and staffing it feels it needs to operate as autonomously as possible. At times headquarters management tries to check the emergence of this costly duplication by mandating resource sharing across strategic business units, by using central service groups, or both. But these well-meaning attempts at cost containment send mixed signals to the strategic business units and they also can impose heavy coordination costs in terms of time and loss of flexibility.

Many intelligently managed companies led down the paths and took a seemingly attractive shortcut in their thinking. They confused a framework for planning with a basis for organizing power and resources. They used a perspective that directs to management’s attention to the financial scorekeeping aspects of the business at the cost of neglecting the underlying mechanisms that create value for their customers.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact, Line of Sight