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SSA Notebook | November 2012

Five Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Why Business Execution Matters – A Lesson from Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer

Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer recently assembled her employees to announce a turnaround plan for the company. According to this Business Insider piece, one of Mayer’s biggest changes will be driven by the following mandate: “If a new product can’t be shipped in six months, and if it doesn’t have a realistic shot of reaching 100 million users or generate $100 million toward the company’s top line, then Yahoo will no longer bother.” Mayer, a former product manager/marketer of Google, knows what good execution looks like. As Mayer shifts the company’s focus to prioritize products that ‘move the needle,’ culture change will be key. For example, employees need empowerment to make decisions and bypass common bureaucratic obstacles found within large organizations. Additionally, processes need to be redesigned to eliminate non-value added activities.

2. How Strategic Talent Management Drives Financial Returns

This month, in partnership with our sister company G100 Network and Spencer Stuart, SSA & Company will bring together F500 CEOs from the energy industry for a roundtable discussion on attracting and developing talent. Due to a shortage of skilled recruits and an increasing population of retiring workers, a dialogue on this topic is particularly timely for the energy industry — but strategic talent management will drive long-term success for any business. A recent Forbes article validates this point. In an analysis of 600+ different organizations over the last four years, researchers correlated talent management maturity with a variety of business outcomes. The study revealed that companies with the most mature talent programs “generate 26% greater revenue per employee than their peers” and “have 40% lower voluntary turnover among high-performers than their peers.” While these leading organizations invested in new talent management software systems, the author noted that it was the “forced re-engineering of business processes,” not the technology, that actually drove improvement.

3. Big Data is Getting Even Bigger

This TechCrunch article highlights recent findings from Gartner’s research on the true impact and direction of the big data market. According to the reports, “big data will drive $232 billion in spending through 2016.” In addition, “big data will directly or indirectly drive $96 billion of worldwide IT spending in 2012, and is forecasted to drive $120 billion of IT spending in 2013.” It’s interesting to note that only narrow slice of IT spend is allocated towards business intelligence over the next few years. If the present focus is on adapting original solutions to meet the new demands of large amounts of data, once technology capabilities enhance and services become standardized, how will businesses be equipped to use all of their data to gain insights that enable better performance? While leading organizations are beginning to derive significant value from their big data initiatives now, those companies who have yet to make their big data programs work (or have not yet started them at all), will undeniably be at a competitive disadvantage.

4. In the Right Operating Conditions, Large Companies Can Innovate Too

This HBR post provides a great case for why any company, regardless of its age or scale, can innovate. In today’s ever-changing market, it is critical for firms to figure out how to consistently create value. By comparing IBM to HP, two large companies with amazing histories, the article distinguishes how the right operating conditions can enable businesses to continuously reinvent themselves, and ultimately thrive. IBM, which recently reached the highest stock valuation in its over 100 year history, provides a great model for how big companies can create an environment that fosters innovation. For example, the author argues that rather than “trying to preserve market position,” today’s companies need to “cultivate the ability to adapt,” and points to times where HP had competed on a cost position, while IBM was “focused on leaping to their next opportunity.”

5. How (and Why) Executives Leaders Should Master the Art of Listening

In this HBR piece, expert business advisor and SSA & Company advisor Ram Charan notes a frequent trend emerging in 360-degree feedback of corporate leaders: listening deficits. This characteristic is potentially highly destructive, Charan explains, because the effects of a listening deficit can “paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” However, despite today’s fast-paced world, busy leaders can master the discipline of listening. For example, Charan explains, when working within and across teams you should “consider the source” to understand each person’s frame of reference. Charan demonstrates this with the story of Ivan Seidenberg, who rose to become Chairman and CEO of Verizon.