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There are countless parenting and birthing resources in the country. In San Francisco, a small business named Natural Resources stands out among many. While one can obtain many of the small store’s product offerings at other retailers, Natural Resources customers receive thorough product knowledge from friendly staff who take the time to get to know parents walking them through all of the items available for sale.

Natural Resources is more than a parenting and birthing store. It’s a great resource for prenatal and early parenting classes taught by kind, compassionate educators who truly enjoy their jobs. Additionally, the store offers a library, open houses to meet doulas and midwives, and a comfortable supporting atmosphere for breastfeeding mothers.

Parenting and Community Support as Business Strategy

Parenting and community support are not just a business strategy at Natural Resources, but the way the team does business every day. “We support the families and our community with a carefully chosen selection of products and class offerings,” explains Amy Hyams, one of Natural Resource’s childbirth educators. Products are chosen based on practicality, fair wage and manufacturing practices and toxin-free materials that are earth-friendly.

Hyams continues to say that the center’s customers are viewed as valuable contributors to the growth and success of the business. “We measure success by our customer’s positive birth experiences and thoughtful parenting, by our staff members’ excellence, and by our contribution to the improvement of the environment.”

Natural Resources offers a membership program with access to a library and opportunity to lend a sling or baby carrier before buying it. The center welcomes customers to use the in store baby scale and changing table. Or one can enjoy a cup of tea while perusing one of the many local resource binders to find information about nannies, doulas, midwives, and many other local providers.

Individual Customer Service Lead to Business Success

Small business success is not easy to come by. In a fierce competitive market, Natural Resources’ strategy focuses on the basics by strongly emphasizing individual customer service. A small store like Natural Resources is easily underpriced by big box stores which carry a larger inventory at lower price. Yet, Natural Resource’s business model of individual customer service holds strong and customers don’t seem to mind the slightly higher product pricing.

Hyams offered this example to illustrate this point: “Recently, a customer came to us looking to buy a breast pump. She shared with us that she saw the same product at Target for $25 less. Yet, she came to Natural Resources because we were able to provide detailed product information, explain how it worked, how to store milk, and more.”

The model works. One can’t deny the high level of customer service and compassion, paired with detailed product knowledge are indeed rare to find elsewhere in the retail environment.

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Why is this? What is so magical about the number – 10%? Here are some examples that can be found in many organizations today.

The Ten Percent Solution

  • Increase sales by 10%
  • Reduce the accident rate by 10%
  • In crease market share by 10%
  • Remove the bottom 10% performers
  • Address and explain all budget variances in excessive of 10%
  • Improve profits by 10%
  • Reduce labor costs by 10%

When examined in this fashion, questions surface like: “Why not 11%”? or “Why not 15%? 25%” If the number of 10% is arbitrary in that it has no basis in facts about the history of performance, why not go for a bigger number? Wouldn’t that be better?

This is the problem with the use of numbers like this in setting goals and measuring performance. Rather than serving as a goal or benchmark, it is an indication that the management group is out of touch with the key performance levers of the organization. Management is not looking at performance from a systems point of view and that limited perspective can often lead to a punishing result.

The bottom line here is all performance can be measured so the measurement is not the issue, the goal is. The problem with an arbitrary number like 10% is just that, it’s arbitrary. A closer examination will often reveal that it is either significantly too high or too low, depending upon the circumstances.

Getting to the Basics of Meaningful Performance Measurement

Getting to a more fundamentally sound goal requires a systems outlook. Getting started by going back and looking at the measurements themselves can do this. As with any measurement in nature, there will be variation in what is being observed and measured. Some of that variation will be normal and there lies the problem with an arbitrarily chosen 10% goal. It could very well lie in the domain of what can be considered normal performance.

The solution from a management point of view is to apply some statistical thinking to the measures to separate what can be expected to occur normally from what is unusual, not normal, and hopefully better. With this process it is less likely that “lucky” performance which is normal but over that 10% hurdle will get rewarded and more likely that only significant improvements to performance will get this attention and the rewards.

A simple example of how this works is consider a monthly market share analysis report. Plot at least 20 months of past history and then look forward. A simple signal for significant and real performance improvement will now be 7 points in a row above the average for the first 20 months.

Challenging groups for improvement under this type of measurement process typically stimulates the serious group problem analysis and solving work that leads to the necessary significant improvements. These are smart people and they know when a goal is real and challenging and when it is just arbitrary.

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The late-Larry Burkett was a well-recognized Christian financial consultant and founder of Christian Financial Concepts. In his book, Business By The Book, Burkett outlined a number of foundational and timeless principles for business, including what he called the six biblical minimums.

The First Biblical Business Minimum: Reflect Christ in Your Business Practices

The first foundational business principle postulated by Burkett was to reflect Christ in every business practice. To reflect Christ in every practice means to do things in such a way that are consistent with Christ’s character and makes Christ look good in the sight of others. Burkett explains that putting Christ may cause a company to lose money in the short-term, but will reap benefits for the long-term.

The Second Biblical Business Minimum: Be Accountable

The second foundational principle put forth by Burkett was to be accountable. Accountability has become a bad word in organizational and private circles, but the accounting and housing scandals call this practice back into the limelight. To be accountable means to have checks and balances in place to ensure responsible business practices.

The Third Biblical Business Minimum: Provide a Quality Product for a Fair Price

The third foundational principle suggested by Burkett was to provide a quality product for a fair price. Burkett wrote: “The value of the products and services a company offers says more to the public about the real character of the company and its people than perhaps any other aspect of the company’s life.” Repeat business comes with trust; trust is won by quality products at fair prices.

The Fourth Biblical Business Minimum: Honor All Creditors

The fourth foundational principle talked about by Burkett is to honor all creditors. This means to pay all debts on time whether it is borrowed merchandise or money. Too much debt and the related interest can eat into profits and jeopardize the long-term viability of a business. Not paying debts also takes erodes a company’s reputation.

The Fifth Biblical Business Minimum: Treat Employees Fairly

The next foundational minimum is to treat employees fairly. Employees are the backbone of the business. They are in the trenches every working day to help the company fulfill its mission. A company that understands the worth of its hired help inspires those employees to give their best and receive a positive return on investment.

The Sixth Biblical Business Minimum: Treat Customers Fairly

The last foundational business principle set forth by Burkett is to treat customers fairly. No organization or business can survive without customers. When customers are treated well, they will come back.

These are the six biblical business minimums Burkett postulates for a prosperous long-term Christian-based business. The last five apply to any business.

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The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a repository for, among other things, information about notable businesses. With anybody being able to edit it, one of the most important ways that Wikipedia ensures that its information is accurate is through the application of a verifiability standard. Any information that is likely to be challenged by another edit must include a source citation, and those sources should be known for fact-checking. The most controversial edits can be seen in articles where the information is rapidly changing, such as biographies of living people, news stories, and established businesses; the sources in these situations are held up to high scrutiny. Understanding how business information is verified on Wikipedia can be helpful when addressing inaccuracies and unfavorable information.

Information Must Be Verifiable

According to Wikipedia’s verifiability policy, “Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source.” Information which is common knowledge does not require citations. Reliability and published are terms which bear further explanation.

  • Reliable sources are known for being correct. The most reliable sources are peer-reviewed academic journals, mainstream newspapers, and other sources which have a process of editorial oversight that includes fact-checking. One or more individuals other than the writer have reviewed the work to ensure that events occurred as reported, research methods were applied consistently, and quotations are rendered accurately.
  • Published sources can include electronic media, but generally never include self-published work. Books printed by a vanity or on-demand publishing house are self-published, as are web sites including blogs (notwithstanding the occasional blog on a newspaper’s web site which receives third-party editorial review; this would not be considered self-published).

Information can be cited from so-called “questionable sources” (including self-published information and sources which have a reputation for factual errors) for a limited extent on an article about the source itself. For example, it may be appropriate to include a reference from Microsoft.com in the Microsoft entry on Wikipedia. However, the source must not make claims about third parties (such as a review of a Google service) and should not be the primary source for the article.

Wikipedia cannot be used as a source for its own entries, because Wikipedia is unreliable due to its self-published nature. In addition, to permit this would create a circular reference with no academic credibility.

Truth vs. Verifiability

Wikipedia’s neutrality policy maintains that all mainstream viewpoints on a subject should be represented in about the same proportion as they are covered in reliable sources. This means that negative information about a business will not be removed if a reliable source can be found for it. Simply removing accurate information will not have a lasting effect, and repeatedly doing so will be viewed as vandalism. How to word a challenge to the information depends on how many sources are available for it.

  • Is the information widespread? If the Wikipedia article accurately reflects what is being reported, review it to see if undue is given the information. Heavy coverage of a current news event can easily distort a Wikipedia page, and suggesting the information be more balanced is appropriate.
  • Do only a handful of sources have this information? Look carefully at the reliability of each source to see if it’s possible to make an argument for its removal as unreliable. Fewer sources mean that fewer sentences should be devoted to the information in the Wikipedia article.
  • Are there only one or two sources? Again, presenting a case of unreliability may lead to a source being removed. If the only source is an article in a reliable source such as the New York Times, a reasonable argument may still be made for there not being enough coverage to warrant its inclusion. Remember, Wikipedia does not wish to grant undue weight to trivial subjects.

Avoiding Conflict of Interest Issues

An employee of a company is considered too close to a business to be able to edit its entry without bias. With the exception of blatantly false and disparaging information, such employees should disclose their interest and discuss proposed changes on the talk page, the discussion area for editors of the article. Being honest about the relationship makes other editors more receptive to suggestions, such as arguments questioning the reliability and verifiability of sources.

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Arnoud de Meyer and Sam Garg’s publication “Inspire to Innovate – Management and Innovation in Asia” is one of the best innovation management handbooks on the market, as it is based on formal research in Asia, not guesswork or wishful thinking.

Credentials of Arnoud de Meyer and Sam Garg

At the time of publication, De Meyer was Professor of Technology Management at the prestigious international business school, Institute Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD). He is an Akzo Nobel Fellow in Strategic Management. He is no crusty on-the-shelf academic: he has management experience as director of several high tech companies.

Sam Garg was Research Associate at INSEAD. His 10 year residence in Singapore, where he founded a technology company, and his principal work with INSEAD in the strategy and management of companies in Asia, has equipped him to write confidently about the Asian situation.

Principal Thesis of “Inspire to Innovate”

After research based on interviews with privileged observers and 30 case files of companies throughout Asia, de Meyer and Garg came up with a core thesis: The standard practices of innovation management current throughout the world apply equally well to Asia, but there are specific hurdles to implementation unique to (non-Japan) Asia. The book addresses those hurdles.

Research Findings About Innovation Management in the Asian Context

The authors arrived at five categories of hurdles:

  • The resources needed for innovation are still scarce.
  • Markets that stimulate innovation are geographically and/or culturally far away.
  • Existing industrial policies are aimed at catching up with the industrialized world, rather than seeking value creation through innovation.
  • Many organizations have innovation-averse cultures.
  • There is a lack of appreciation for intangibles (such as brand building) in Asia.

Confirming Hypotheses Through a Survey

The findings were translated into a questionnaire of 32 statements about key success factors for innovation management for evaluation by senior managers throughout Asia. The survey was emailed to 3160 senior managers, of whom 336 completed the assignment.

The collective wisdom of these managers suggested that:

  • The most negative factors perceived to be a hurdle were quick imitation of innovative products by competitors, inadequate protection of IPR, insufficient project management capabilities, inability to reconfigure existing capabilities into new products, unsophisticated existing customer base and lack of reliable marketing data.
  • The most cited (when asked to select the top three challenges) were disengaged employees, strong cost reduction attitude, insufficient project management capabilities, inability to reconfigure existing capabilities, inadequate IPR protection and inadequate risk capital.

Advice for Creative Management

The book directly addresses managers engaged in the management of innovation and offers advice in several areas. Examples are drawn from the top innovative companies in business Asia. Chapter headings will give an indication of the scope of the discussion:

  • Creating new organizations in Asia for the new challenges
  • Markets and marketing
  • Mobilizing resources
  • Profit management
  • Overcoming the underdog mentality
  • What to do next?

As the authors say in their introduction, by the time the reader picks up the book, the information is already outdated. Four years down the track from publication, what has changed in business Asia? What remains the same? “Inspire to Innovate” is an easy and fascinating read. Despite its Asian context, it provides an excellent introduction to innovation and management in companies all over the world.

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The person organizing the get-together has a responsibility to the other participants to hold an effective meeting. Participants also need to stay on track and complete tasks to maximize use of time.

The responsibilities start even before the meeting begins.

Attendees, Location and Timing

The organizer makes the key decisions prior to the meeting. The organizer may or may not be the person who will chair the meeting, but they should work closely together prior to the meeting.

  • Number of attendees: The people in attendance should correspond to the tasks that need to be completed. Any group larger than four needs some planning to be successful. Having more than 10 members is generally unwieldy, and very little is likely to get accomplished
  • The right attendees: The group should include a mix of decision makers and those supplying the information for the decision maker. Include those with different viewpoints on the action, but it is not necessary to include every one is effected by the decision. Representatives should be present that can carry to the message back to other stakeholders. It is better to reconvene to modify a decision than to never make a choice because the meeting is too large to accomplish anything.
  • Obtain the right sized location: It may seem obvious, but the place should be big enough for the participants and material, but not so big that it is difficult for participants to interact.
  • Setting the length: It is important to provide enough time so that all viewpoints can be expressed. If too much time is allocated, the chairperson can adjourn early. An alternate strategy is to schedule a very short time, in an effort to force the group to come to a decision quickly.
  • Setting the meeting time: One strategy is to have early morning meetings, in order to bring in everyone before the demands of the day interfere with attendance. Others prefer a bit later, so that persons can address overnight emails or late phone calls before attending. Similar issues are present in gatherings scheduled after lunch.
  • Luncheon meetings vary in popularity, between those that prefer a free lunch if one is provided, and those that reserve their time for things outside work. Knowing the team and the budget is helpful in deciding on scheduling at mealtime.
  • Offsite meetings should include a provision for travel time in everyone’s schedules.

Setting the Meeting Agenda

For the gathering to be successful, the organizer should prepare an agenda, with the important topics to discuss and the topics on which decisions should be made.

The agenda should be sent out ahead of the meeting, preferable more than a day in advance, giving participants an opportunity to review and suggest appropriate topics and others to invite, although it is still the organizer’s decision on who can attend in order to maintain focus and effectiveness.

If there are multiple agenda items, the organizer can allocate a specific time allotted for each item, which the meeting chair can enforce.

With proper preparation, meetings will be much more likely to accomplish appropriate goals, and improve productivity for the members and the organization.

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It is information and decisions that determine the success of businesses. Decisions on product lines determine whether the business will operate in an intensely competitive market, for example. Decisions on the shop floor affect product quality and whether customers find it acceptable or otherwise. Decisions on the employee front can determine whether there is a committed or aggrieved group to support business operations.

Decision Process and Information Systems

In this article, the focus is on the decision making process.

Even supposedly rational business decisions are usually affected by the decision maker’s personal traits, affecting its quality. Many decision makers might also not be aware of the ways decisions are made, and how these can be improved. It is these issues that form the focus of this article.

The Decision Making Process

The process of making decisions has several dimensions.

  • There is a psychological dimension of being affected by the needs, preferences and values of the individual who makes decisions
  • Many people are able to make decisions in a logical manner by considering all relevant issues and arriving at a rational decision
  • Then there are the day-to-day routine decision-making as when you decide to cross the road when the Walk signal turns green

Many kinds of biases typically affect decisions. The persons making them might not even be clearly aware of these biases. Wishful thinking, selective search for supporting evidence and inertia that prevents new ways of thinking are just a few examples of the kinds of biases that can lead to deciding poorly.

There are also different styles of decision making.

  • Some people consider the pros and cons of alternative decisions
  • Others might select the first one that seems likely to work
  • Yet others might look for some kind of supernatural guidance
  • A few might even decide by tossing a coin

There are also those who prefer to leave decision making to others and just carry out the given decisions.

Business Decisions

A great deal of literature is available on business decision making. Because of their impact on business success, business decision-making has become an important issue of business management.

Business decisions are complicated by many uncertainties. Economic conditions can change, competitors can retaliate in different ways and technology developments can turn sound decisions into poor ones. Decisions might also have to be made on the basis of ambiguous or incomplete information.

In such a context, experienced managers might turn to the age-old practice of deciding by intuition. Intuitive decisions can often turn out to be good decisions because past experiences might influence them in less obvious ways.

On the other hand, tools have been developed to make the decision-making process transparent and to handle uncertainty, and even to cope with competitor responses.

  • Graphic tools like decision trees and influence diagrams can clarify the issues involved
  • Probability distributions can provide some idea of the risk posed by uncertainties
  • Using game theory, decisions that consider likely competitor responses can be developed

Using the tools requires training and conscious effort as they do not usually represent the way people think. The tools do bring the issues involved in decision-making up front (instead of being tacit assumptions never clearly expressed), and generally lead to better decisions.

The quality of business decision making can significantly affect a business’s success. Decisions based on relevant information, made in a structured manner, have much better chances of leading to successful outcomes. Modern management information systems can provide timely information to business managers. A careful look at the decision-making practices of managers can help further improve the process.

The following is a guest post from Avky Inc co-founder Alex Vasser.

Entrepreneurs are at the forefront of innovation through creation and invention. They are not only able to create products and services, but are also able to create jobs through their unique traits. They can facilitate a ripple effect through business sectors at the micro and macro level. But what are entrepreneurial qualities? What are the qualities and traits that separate the person who creates a business from the person who works for a business?

The Drive to Succeed

Drive and focus are the very marrow of the entrepreneur’s backbone. However, what does it mean to succeed? Where does this drive originate from? They are leaders that are able to see a problem and offer a viable way of fixing it. They are not in it to alter it in minute amounts or offer a temporary solution. They seek to offer a solution that will completely eliminate the problem altogether. It is a product and a service that makes people think, “Well I be damned. Why didn’t I think of that?” This is an innate entrepreneurial quality: the ability to think ahead of the pack and act upon it.

Risk-Takers: Smart Decision Making

Any person interested in starting a business needs to be a competitive risk taker. Entrepreneurs take risks that are backed up with sufficient qualitative and quantitative data. They do not make blind, stupid decisions. They take smart risks while charging ahead with confidence.

Cater to Market Demands

People who have successful business startups have learned to have a feel for market wants and needs, enabling them to know how to properly fill that need. They do not obtain this intuition as a result of some extra sense or magical power, but rather from observation of past trends, interpreting the current market situation, and knowing their audience and target niches. This trait allows them to reap the benefits of continued success.

Emotional Intelligence: Harness Relationships

Entrepreneurs have high emotional intelligence that enables them to relate with exceptional skill to other people. This skill tells them what will fail and what will succeed by observing how people around them act and react in the early stages of a product’s development. They may take a loss on certain products, but quickly learn what will work, as well as what will not work, and cut their losses more quickly than those who lack emotional intelligence.

The entrepreneurial spirit allows them to search for new channels, avenues, and resources to grow their business. They typically do not burn bridges, but rather focus their energy on building business and social networks in order to increase the size and success of their business.