Friday, December 28, 2007
Of course, organizations must not allow the intact teams to isolate themselves in these types of leadership development experiences. One key benefit of leadership development programs is that emerging leaders have the time to network with their peers in other parts of the organization. Often, these peers work in far-flung parts of the world, and they don't know one another quite well at all. The leadership development program offers them time to get to know one another, share best practices, and explore collaboration opportunities to advance the business. If intact teams attend these leadership development programs, one has to be careful that managers don't spend all their time with their own team, thus spending far too little time networking, sharing, and learning from their peers in other parts of the business.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
That kind of rejection, along with a penchant for creativity, may help explain why so many dyslexics are inclined to become entrepreneurs. Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School in London, believes strongly in the connection.
In a study to be published in January, Logan found that 35% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. show signs of dyslexia, compared to 20% in Britain. Logan attributes the gap to a more flexible education system in the U.S., vs. rigid tracking in British schools, and better identification and remediation methods. "Most of the people in our study talked about the role of the mentor and how important that had been," Logan says. "The difference seems to be somebody who believes in you in school."
The broader implication, she says, is that many of the coping skills dyslexics learn in their formative years become best practices for the successful entrepreneur. A child who chronically fails standardized tests must become comfortable with failure. Being a slow reader forces you to extract only vital information, so that you're constantly getting right to the point. Dyslexics are also forced to trust and rely on others to get things done—an essential skill for anyone working to build a business.
The article raises some interesting points regarding dyslexics as entrepreneurs, but I think it also should cause us to consider some more fundamental questions about our entire education system . In the era of self-esteem promotion during the 1990s, our schools often heaped praise on children. They sought to bolster each child's self-image. For me, this article suggests that we should make sure that we also focus on building our children's capabilities with regard to coping with failure. All of us fail many times in life, and entrepreneurs, in particular, must be able to deal with failure. They must be able to experiment, learn from those experiments, and then adjust or adapt their strategies.
Friday, October 05, 2007
iTunes songs and iPods are complementary goods. If consumption of digital music rises, it will fuel more demand for digital music players - and iPod is the dominant player in that market. Where does Apple make their money? They appear to make far more profit from selling iPods than from selling songs on the iTunes stores.
Think of it the way that Harvard Professor David Yoffie explains it in his classic case study about Apple. Yoffie draws on several sources that describe the Apple business model as razors-and-blades in reverse. He quotes Steve Jobs stating that Apple makes very little profit on a song sold through iTunes. Yet, the profit margins on iPods are very healthy. They essentially provide the blades (songs) at a low price as a means of driving demand for the razors (the very profitable iPods).
If this is indeed the business model, then Amazon's latest move in digital music may actually HELP Apple... by fueling further demand for iPods, iPhones, and iPod accessories.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The critics are missing a crucial point. The issue is NOT whether the Supply unit is an attractive and potentially quite profitable business. This issue is whether the Supply unit is BETTER OFF as an independent company vs. within Home Depot. Moreover, the issue is whether Home Depot's retail business is better off on its own or when combined with the Supply unit.
This example demonstrates a larger point. When firms consider diversification, they must not only look at whether a new business unit will provide higher growth and profits... they must also consider whether that new unit will perform optimally as part of the diversified firm, or whether it will be better off on its own or as part of some other corporation. Shareholders benefit most when a business unit is located in an organizational situation in which it can perform best.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
I can recall one remarkable incident in my class several years ago, when Emerson Electric's former Chairman and CEO, Chuck Knight, visited my class. We discussed Emerson's highly regarded strategic planning process. I told the class that there is no one best way to conduct strategic planning; instead, a firm must match its strategic planning approach to the industry dynamics, firm strategy, organizational culture, and leadership style of the CEO. To bolster this point, I shared a quote from Charlie Peters, one of Knight's top executives at Emerson. Peters once said, "
- "Many companies come to Emerson wanting to find out what we are doing and why it works. But often, the trip is wasted. Our process works for us because of the type of impact we are trying to have on our businesses and because of our CEO, Chuck Knight – how he likes to operate and his relationship and status with the divisions. Other companies can’t duplicate that."
Interestingly, a student then asked Chuck Knight if he would have tried to replicate the Emerson strategic planning process if he had gone on to another firm, rather than retiring after he stepped down as CEO of Emerson. Knight offered a fascinating answer. He said that it probably would have been the wrong thing to do, in that the new situation most likely would have called for a substantial adaptation of the Emerson process to fit the needs of that particular company. However, he said that he would have been tempted to simply transport what he done at Emerson to the new firm. He said that this is what CEOs do...they rely on what made them successful. It's easy to convince oneself that this approach will work anywhere.
Knight's remarkably thoughtful comments reinforce the point that Mike Watkins makes in his blog. It is incredibly tempting for executives to want to replicate the the methods and techniques that worked for them in other organizations in the past. However, in business, there is often not "one best way" to do things. Success in business is so often about fit or alignment. The methods and practices must be adapted to fit the current situation and context.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Let's go back to the fundamental strategic choice regarding vertical integration. What should drive the decision by a firm to produce its own inputs (or to conduct its own manufacturing in-house) versus outsourcing these activities to external vendors? Firms need to consider more than simply the direct manufacturing costs of performing these activities in-house vs. outsourcing them. They must consider the transaction costs associated with outsourcing production. In other words, how expensive is it to write contracts with external vendors, to monitor vendor behavior, enforce contractual provisions, control quality, etc.? Many firms underestimate these "costs" associated with using the market (i.e. outsourcing to an external vendor) versus keeping certain activities within the firm.
Quality control can be a very important reason why production is kept in-house instead of outsourcing it. We are learning from the tainted Chinese products situation that the transaction costs associated with quality control of outside vendors can be very high. The transaction costs come not only in the form of expenses associated with monitoring external vendors, but also in the form of a damaged brand in the event of a major recall.
Let's take a simple example of how control can be a key reason for keeping certain activities in-house. Why does Apple choose to operate its own retail stores? One reason is that they want to control the customer experience and the quality of the customer service that people receive. Of course, there are other reasons as well, but control is a critical one. Similarly, Disney owns some hotels in and around its theme parks because it wants to control the quality of the customer experience. Consider the risks and costs associated with having external parties in charge of the experience that families have at a Disney resort.
My argument is not that outsourcing should never occur. I simply aim to remind managers that they must consider the nature of transaction costs when making the outsourcing decision. Of course, there are transaction costs associated with keeping production in-house. The key is to compare the transaction costs of using the market (outsourcing) vs. keeping production in-house.
Finally, firms have to remember these strategic decisions are dynamic in nature. It may make sense to keep certain activities in-house at this point in time, but then outsourcing may become more attractive down the road. For instance, Disney used to own its retail store chain. One can see why they might want to control that customer retail experience. However, once they had operated this chain for some 15 years, they made the decision that they now could establish a licensing agreement, and allow an experienced retailer (Children's Place) to run the chain. Think of it this way. In the 1980s, when they launched the retail chain, they might have felt it was quite difficult, costly, and risky to establish a contract with an outside firm to operate Disney stores. However, now that Disney has run the stores for many years, they may feel more comfortable that they can write an enforceable contract that allows them to maintain quality control without running the store themselves.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Many companies face the problem of the sunk cost effect. In fact, it's particularly problematic for firms involved in extremely expensive and lengthy product development projects. In those situations, the sunk costs can be enormous, and it can be very difficult for managers, scientists, and/or engineers to walk away from a project in which they have not only invested a great deal of money, but also much time, energy, and personal reputation.
A recent Business Week article suggests that Merck has found a way to try to combat this problem. Here's a snippet from the article (for the entire article, click here):
Merck is rewarding scientists for failure. One of the hardest decisions any scientist has to make is when to abandon an experimental drug that's not working. An inability to admit failure leads to inefficiencies. A scientist may spend months and tens of thousands of dollars studying a compound, hoping for a result he or she knows likely won't come, rather than pitching in on a project with a better chance of turning into a viable drug. So Kim (Merck R&D head Peter Kim) is promising stock options to scientists who bail out on losing projects. It's not the loss per se that's being rewarded but the decision to accept failure and move on. "You can't change the truth. You can only delay how long it takes to find it out," Kim says. "If you're a good scientist, you want to spend your time and the company's money on something that's going to lead to success."
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Going public changes things significantly. For years, strategic management scholars and consultants have argued (and shown empirically) that conglomerates (unrelated diversified firms) trade at a discount, that they are worth less than the sum of their parts. You all know the reasons - they have been well-articulated over many years. Well, if a private equity firm goes public, then precisely what is the difference between it and the typical conglomerate? The private equity firm begins to look much more like the usual unrelated diversified firm. A private equity firm no longer can argue that its governance structure poses a substantial advantage over the old style publicly traded conglomerate.
I have heard many of the reasons why private equity firms are going public, beyond the fact that it offers an opportunity for enhancing personal wealth. Access to capital, ability to recruit and retain talent, management successsion... none of these seems like a persuasive argument. These firms have been wildly successful raising capital and attracting talent, while remaining privately held. Even if there were some advantages to going public, they must be weighed against the substantial disadvantage outlined here with respect to agency costs and corporate governance. To me, those disadvantages clearly outweigh the possible benefits of conducting an initial public offering.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The transformation of Limited Brands mirrors the situation that many diversified firms encounter. As firms operate multiple businesses, the corporate office finds itself trying to manage a complex internal capital market. Senior executives typically allocate resources to the business units that show more promise in terms of revenue and profit growth. After all, higher growth and profitability makes additional capital investments appear much more attractive. Executives understandably want the best return on their investment, and they do not have unlimited funds; they must make tradeoffs. Perhaps just as importantly, senior executives allocate more of their time and attention to the more promising business units as well. That, in turn, can lead to a downward spiral at the less successful businesses in the portfolio - weak results lead to a decrease in capital allocated to the business, as well as a decrease in management attention, which together further diminish the prospects for enhanced revenue and earnings growth. Moreover, slower growth and lower rates of capital investment make the businesses less attractive to talented current and potential employees, causing a drain in the quality of human capital in those businesses. That, in turn, further weakens the financial results in those units.
This scenario, which we see unfold in many diversified firms, points out the dangers associated with trying to manage a portfolio of businesses with differing levels of growth and profitability. Moreover, it demonstrates why focused firms often are able to capitalize on the distractions faced by executive teams who are trying to oversee a wide range of business units.
Limited Brands deserves credit for ultimately recognizing that its apparel chains could be better off under management whose sole focus is on that particular brand. Moreover, Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works are likely to benefit too. Now senior management can completely focus on these businesses, which face increasing competition as new entrants chase the high profits in those sectors.
Monday, July 09, 2007
As a professor, I can see these generational learning differences very clearly. Young people gather and process information, develop new skills, and discover new things in very different ways than many people from prior generations. My younger students, for instance, love studying for exams by listening to and reviewing my weekly podcasts, which discuss key points from the case studies that we examined. They also tend to embrace active learning, i.e. classroom experiences in which they are engaged participants, as opposed to passive listeners to faculty lectures. Just as orofessors must adapt to this newer generation's distinct learning style inside and outside the classroom, so too must managers find ways to tailor the way that they monitor, motivate, and train employees of various generations.
The challenge, however, becomes one of fairness. While I believe tailoring approaches for different employees makes some sense, I worry that managers may end up creating perceptions of inequity. People often don't like to feel as though their peers are not playing by the same rules. Thus, as managers try to adapt their approaches to meet the needs of a multigenerational staff, they must be particularly careful that employees do not begin to perceive that they are being treated unfairly in comparison to peers of another generation.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Having said that, I think that sustainable long-term changes in stock price require substantive improvements on the part of a firm, not just image-oriented campaigns. Companies, in fact, can find themselves in deeper trouble if they try to build a reputation through advertisements and public relations, while consumers, journalists, and investors later learn that the reputation is not consistent with the underlying realities of the business. Take BP, for instance. It spent a great deal of money on its "green" campaign under former CEO John Browne. When it then encountered several accidents and mishaps at its facilities, the company faced a serious disconnect between what it was saying in its image campaigns and what it was revealed to be doing in its own operations. BP's market value fell by nearly $40 billion from mid-2006 until the announcement of the resignation of Lord Browne in early 2007.
Friday, June 08, 2007
- They examine problems as a whole, with careful consideration of how different parts of a situation fit together, rather than analyzing different elements in isolation.
- They consider multiple avenues of causation for a problem, as well as possible nonlinear relationships between cause and effect, rather than thinking of terms of simple linear relationships between a single cause and effect.
- They embrace the tension between opposing ideas, and they use that conflict to generate creative new alternatives, rather than making simple either-or decisions.
In short, Martin argues that successful leaders think holistically and embrace the power of conflict. In my work, I have argued that constructive conflict within a management team leads to better decisions. Martin stresses that successful leaders also have to embrace conflict within their own mind. They must "hold two conflict ideas in constructive, amost dialectic tension." Martin points out that many people find this internal tension uncomfortable, and thus they shy away from it.
While I would agree with Martin in general, I am reminded of the challenges associated with this type of integrative thinking, as described by Karl Weick in a famous 1984 article entitled "Small Wins." Weick argued that large, complex problems can sometimes be cognitively overwhelming. Thus, he argued that decision-makers should break complex problems into parts, and seek a series of "small wins" as a means of generating solutions to complicated issues. Martin explicitly argues against breaking problems into pieces. He says that holistic thinkers view problems as a whole. Here, I disagree slightly with Martin. I think one can approach a problem holistically, yet still follow Weick's advice to seek small wins while working through the organizational decision-making process required to solve the problem. Trying to achieve small wins in attacking a problem does not mean that a leader fails to think about how various elements of a problem fit together.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The competitive dynamics in the supermarket industry remind me of what took place in the mass merchandising sector. Many chains went bankrupt trying to match Wal-Mart's low costs and low prices. Target took a different path. It chose a differentiation strategy, with higher quality products, better service, and a bright, clean store with easy-to-navigate aisles in which consumers love to shop. It didn't go head-to-head with the behemoth. Instead, it chose a form of indirect competition, moving slightly upmarket. In so doing, Target has prospered while many chains became extinct.
Firms in all industries would be well-served to consider the fate of those that have competed with Wal-Mart. Imitating the market leader often does not lead to bountiful profits. Finding a different path proves much more economically rewarding.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Charles Perrow's theory of complex systems, I believe, can be applied to think about the enhanced risk that firms are assuming with the leaner, more efficient global supply chains of today. According to Perrow, the risk of catastrophic incidents increases when systems are characterized by what he calls "tight coupling." By tight coupling, he means systems that have the following characteristics: time dependent processes, a fairly rigid sequence of activities, one dominant path to achieving the goal, and very little slack. His classic example is that of a nuclear power plant. Its subsystems are tightly coupled (or highly rigid, if you will). One could argue that the efforts to build leaner, more efficient global supply chains have enhanced the level of tight coupling in those systems, and thereby enhanced the risk of a catastrophic failure of some kind.
Take, for example, the issue of slack. Years ago, supply chains tended to have a fair amount of slack - for instance, many firms maintained a fair amount of buffer inventory between various stages of the value chain. Of course, carrying all that inventory proved quite costly. Today, firms have been driving slack out of their supply chains in order to reduce costs. The unfortunate downside of that slack reduction may be an increase in tight coupling - and thus, in systemic risk. Naturally, the solution to the enhanced risk does not lie in adding back tons of waste to the supply chain. Instead, firms must find ways to reduce the rigidity of the system, so that one small error cannot easily cascade into a series of problems that lead to major catastrophe.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
It will be interesting to watch how new CEO George Buckley's efforts to stimulate creativity play out in the years ahead. Can the company stimulate more breakthrough innovation without compromising its efforts to continuously improve quality and efficiency? The 3M story takes us back to a very interesting issue that academics have been studying for years, namely the tension between exploitation activities and exploration activities. Exploitation refers to the systematic refinement and improvement of existing processes and products, while exploration involves more open-ended experimentation and discovery. Can firms simultaneously perform both sets of activities well? Often, a firm's resource allocation process exhibits a strong bias toward one form of activity or the other. Senior management teams often have skills and capabilities that are well-suited for exploitation, but not exploration, or vice versa. The incentive system also often leans one way or the other. Some managers and academics believe that the best firms can strike a balance between exploration and exploitation, but it has not been easy identifying how to achieve this balancing act. It strikes me that we will learn a great deal about this issue by watching how events unfold at 3M in the years ahead.
Moreover, Godin suggests that experts often judge a pitch based on their existing worldview. Their mental model becomes the filter through which they judge whether something will become a hit. Of course, that mental model is largely shaped by past successes and failures. However, as Godin rightly points out, "The problem is that hits change worldviews. Hits change our senses. Hits appeal to people other than the gatekeepers and then the word spreads."
Godin's argument reminds me of the famous quote by legendary screenwriter William Goldman, who once remarked that “nobody knows nothing” in Hollywood, meaning that picking hits remained a formidable challenge even for industry veterans like him.
Friday, May 25, 2007
It's worth revisiting Jensen's arguments for a moment. At the time, Jensen argued that the public corporation's "decline is real, enduring, and highly productive." He explained the benefits of private equity and leveraged buyouts using agency theory, of which he was one of the founding fathers. Jensen wrote, "By solving the central weakness of the public corporation - the conflict between owners and managers over the control and use of corporate resources - these new organizations are making remarkable gains in operating efficiency, employee productivity, and shareholder value."
I can recall being one of Michael Jensen's students back in the early 1990s, long before I became his colleague on the HBS faculty. His class was the most popular elective at HBS back then. Not everyone agreed with him, but he offered thought-provoking theories, and he sparked some wonderful debates. This article, in particular, resonated with me and many of my peers back then, and it sure does seem quite prescient looking back today.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Maxine Clark, founder and CEO of Build-a-Bear Workshop, has a refreshing take on how to encourage risk-taking and use mistakes to drive innovation. She has built an incredibly successful company, growing it to over $350 milllion in sales over the past decade. She has done so by delivering a world-class customer experience in her stores. In her book, Clark tells us the story of her first grade teacher, Mrs. Grace. Like many elementary school teachers, Mrs. Grace graded papers using a red pencil. However, unlike most of her colleagues, Mrs. Grace gave out a rather unorthodox award at the end of each week. She awarded a red pencil prize to the student who had made the most mistakes! Why? Mrs. Grace wanted her students engaged in the class discussion, trying to answer every question - no matter how challenging. As Clark writes, "She didn't want the fear of being wrong to keep us from taking chances. Her only rule was that we couldn't be rewarded for making the same mistake twice." That is the key - making sure that you emphasize the importance of learning from each mistake, so that they do not happen again.
Clark has applied her first grade teacher's approach at Build-a-Bear by creating a Red Pencil Award. She gives this prize to people who have made a mistake, but who have discovered a better way of doing business as a result of reflecting upon and learning from that mistake. Clark has it right when she says that managers should encourage their people to "experiment freely, and view every so-called mistake as one step closer to getting things just right." Of course, her first grade teacher had it right as well when she stressed that people would be held accountable if they made the same mistake repeatedly. Failing to learn is the bad behavior that managers should deem unacceptable.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The explanation for the conglomerate discount is that, in the presence of efficient capital markets, investors can diversify more effectively and inexpensively than the executives of the firm. In short, we don't need senior managers at the conglomerate to spread risk by being in a wide range of unrelated businesses; we can achieve risk mitigation much more effectively by buying a portfolio of stocks of more focused firms. Similarly, in the presence of efficient external labor markets, we would question whether a conglomerate could operate its internal labor market more effectively than the external market.
However, GE has been a famous exception to the general tendency regarding the conglomerate discount. It has performed quite well for decades, with its business units outperforming most focused competitors. Could this no longer be true? If the stock price performance continues to lag the overall market, more investors will be taking a look at the age-old question: is the whole worth more than the sum of the parts? Given GE's track record, I would tend to be cautious about breaking up the firm, but it will be interesting to watch what happens if the stock continues to lag the market.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Companies continue to set such targets though, and they continue to get themselves in trouble pursuing the ever-elusive 15% growth year after year. Some executives undoubtedly will disappoint Wall Street when they fail to meet these targets. A few might cross the ethical line trying to avoid public acknowledgement of missed earnings goals. The larger problem, however, is that many firms will undermine a once quite effective competitive strategy in search of rapid growth. They often undermine their strategy by expanding their product and service offerings in an undisciplined manner. They begin trying to be all things to all people, instead of focusing intently on a particular segment of consumers. In short, many companies simply grow themselves into a troubled strategy.
In a 1996 Harvard Business Review article, Michael Porter argued that "the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." In other words, creating a distinctive strategy is all about making good tradeoffs. Southwest Airlines, for instance, does not offer first class seating, nice meals, and assigned seats. By refusing to offer such services to customers, they have created a unique low-cost position in a very tough industry. Southwest isn't for everyone. That's ok. They don't try to cater to all flyers.
As many companies get large, and try to sustain 15%+ growth, they begin violating the tradeoffs that made them unique and great. That leads them into trouble. Porter called this the "growth trap." Do we have some examples recently? One might be The Home Depot. When Bob Nardelli took over, the company generated $45 billion in annual revenue. He spoke boldly of more than doubling revenue in five years, to achieve $100 billion in sales. That translates into roughly 15% growth per year. You see the trouble. 15% growth at a company of that size means adding more than $50 billion in revenue in 5 years - a breathtaking pace. It had taken the company more than 20 years to grow to $45 billion sales. Now, they wanted to generate that same amount of new revenue in less than 1/4 of the time. Five years later, of course, Nardelli was pushed out at The Home Depot, and many investors want new CEO Frank Blake to fundamentally re-think the strategy. Under Nardelli, the company had expanded aggressively into businesses catering to professional contractors. The firm began as a company totally focused on the do-it-yourselfer. By 2006, it had become a firm trying to cater very different kinds of customers, ranging from the buy-it-yourselfer who wanted someone else to do the work to the professional contractor who wanted to buy in bulk. Those very different customers had very different needs. It operated multiple businesses ranging from EXPO Design to Home Depot Supply. Through it all, the original "orange box" could not keep up with the same-store sales growth generated by Lowe's - a much more focused competitor.
Are there other companies today in danger because of the "15% delusion" described by Loomis? One company to watch is Starbucks. In their last Annual Report, they set out goals of achieving 20% sales growth per year and 20-25% earnings growth per year over the next 3-5 years. 25% earnings growth means doubling net income every 3 years! Can they do it? Perhaps. It has been a remarkable company. However, Starbucks is now a Fortune 500 firm. It generated nearly $8 billion in revenue last year. Sustaining such rapid growth, without undermining its distinctive competitive positioning, will be a challenge. Investors recognize this, which is why so much was made of founder Howard Schultz's recent letter to senior managers. In that letter, he warned of the possible "watering down" of the Starbucks brand and experience. He speaks, for instance, of the loss of the coffee aroma in the stores. I notice this now that Starbucks offers breakfast sandwiches... the shops don't smell like coffee any more; they smell like eggs. It's not the same experience. As Starbucks continues to try to grow aggressively, one wonders if they will violate many of the tradeoffs that made them so distinctive. What exactly will Starbucks not do these days? Are they trying to be all things to all people? Will they be more like Southwest Airlines or The Home Depot five years from now?
Friday, March 30, 2007
In my experience, there are three types of problematic off-sites. First, we have "Off-Site Lite" - the expensive gathering at a plush resort, filled with golf outings, cocktail parties ... and very little real work. People come away tanned and rested, yet they have done little to address the tough challenges facing the business. Second, we have "The Powerpoint Parade" - an agenda packed with an endless series of presentations by senior managers... with very little time for open-ended dialogue and candid debate. Managers come away with thick binders that will gather dust on their bookshelves, yet few strategic decisions have been made. Finally, we have "Deep Thoughts" - a rambling, unstructured discussion of big ideas and profound insights... with no action items assigned, no decisions made, and no dialouge about what to do next.
How does one avoid these rather expensive fiascoes? First, before planning all the social activities and "networking opportunities," ask yourself a simple question: What would shareholders think if they observed us at this off-site meeting? Would they think we were using their money wisely? Second, be very clear on the goals of the off-site. What types of outcomes do you wish to achieve? What type of tangible action items will emerge from the meetings? Third, keep in mind a simple mantra: Focus on dialogue, not documents. Ask presenters to keep the Powerpoint decks slim and trim. Keep everyone focused on the discussion and the dialogue among the participants, as opposed to reams of slides and spreadsheets. Ensure that managers have ample opportunity to engage vigorous debate about the key challenges and opportunities facing the business. Finally, assign a moderator/facilitator to keep the team on track - to ensure that sufficient debate takes place, but that the conflict remains constructive. Ask that person to help the group establish a set of norms and ground rules for the discussions, and then empower that person to ensure that the group adheres to these guidelines. With these simple principles in mind, I think you come away from your next off-site a bit less tanned and relaxed, but much more ready to tackle the business challenges that lie ahead.