Career Builders

Fire-Up Your Business in 2017!

Shakespeare was right: Past is prologue

by John Graham

Mr. Graham is a principal with GrahamComm, a marketing and sales consultant. He publishes a monthly eNewsletter, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or

In high school, we learned Shakespeare’s indelible words, “What’s past is prologue.” But that’s where we stopped, missing the key part of the bard’s advice: “Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, In your and my discharge.” It’s a clear message: don’t depend on what’s happened so far; it’s all in your hands now.

If that’s true, then don’t waste time on gimmicks that sound great but fizzle faster than fireworks in San Diego bay on the Fourth of July or putting the blame on “changing business conditions.” Unload all the “prologue” stuff and make the moves that make a difference today. With that guidance, here are 10 ways to fire-up a business:

Get the messaging right

When someone says, “The ultimate driving machine,” there’s no need to say more. It’s BMW. Then there’s “America’s Favorite Ketchup.” There’s no need to say Heinz.

Most businesses fail to take advantage of effective messaging by sending conflicting messages or focusing on themselves and meaningless peripheral junk rather than the customer.

The place to start is to make sure every employee is trained and then held accountable for delivering the same compelling customer-focused message, day in and day out.

Tell it like it is

U.S. Army general and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was asked to name the book that made him want to a writer. “My checkbook,” he replied, pointing out that his 38 years in the military limited his income. He needed to improve his finances, particularly after putting three kids through college.

There was none of the often-heard blathering about “having a life-long dream of being a writer.” The motivation was simple: he needed money.

If you want to be trusted, tell it like it is.

Make it easy for employees to work

There’s an abysmal mount of ancient MS Office software in use every day, along with an array of other outdated stuff. Old, slow printers are everywhere, wasting hours of time every month.

Desktop computers are manacles, tethering employees to their desks. Every salesperson should have an iPad, as well as anyone who must get up and check on anything.

It’s strange. When a business executive wants something, it’s called a “wise and necessary investment.” But when an employee makes a similar request, the boss labels it an expense that’s “not in the budget.”

Figure out the future

Five of Fiat’s plants in Italy produced 650,000 cars with 22,000 workers in 2009, while one plant in Poland turned out 600,000 vehicles with only 6,100 workers, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Dramatic changes are on the way if businesses are to survive, and no one who receives a paycheck is exempt. It’s taken a long time to figure out that “creative destruction” is a fact, and not a textbook term.

By the way, change is on the way at Italy’s Fiat plants.

Hire the right people

The current accent on employees “having the right skillsets” is a “red herring.” The concept, fostered by for-profit and public schools and colleges, aided and abetted by politicians and eagerly espoused by employers.

One outfit is partnering with a top public university to offer one-year online “certificate” programs” for retiring Boomers at $10,000 a shot. If that’s not nonsense, it’s close to it. What will those who plunk down their retirement funds to pay the tuition have at the end of 12-months? A job or a certificate to hang on the wall?

The major problem facing businesses is finding employees who know how to think inductively and deductively, who understand what they’re asked to do and why, who evaluate accurately, recognize problems before they occur, offer creative solutions, see the big picture and communicate clearly. Anyone with these “skill sets” can easily adapt to changing requirements and move into new situations easily and successfully.

Align marketing and sales

“Giving back” lets CEOs get all puffed up and ponderous, making certain everyone knows how generous, caring and wonderful they are... Giving is different

This is no job for wimps. It’s tough but worthwhile. If too many marketers are prima donnas, too many salespeople are hopelessly narcissistic, which makes it nearly impossible to get them aligned successfully. Even so, marketing and sales are two sides of the same coin: marketing creates customers and sales gets the orders. Not too complicated.

Believe it or not, no company can thrive today if one or both act as if the other doesn’t or shouldn’t exist. If marketing fails to cultivate customers continuously, it’s failing to do the job and so is sales, when it fails to meet the numbers.
Alignment’s a necessity, not an option.

Give, not give back

Yes, there’s a difference, a big one. “Giving back” lets CEOs get all puffed up and ponderous, making certain everyone knows how generous, caring and wonderful they are.

Giving is different. It’s an act of concern and commitment and it’s also mostly low-key and done simply and quietly. Apple’s image isn’t harmed because the company doesn’t proclaim its charitable giving from the rooftops.

When giving is loud and ostentatious, it sounds more like a commercial than an act of generosity.

It may be that the best form of giving is delivering on our promises so that our customers receive what they expect. It’s an unusual gift, to be sure, and one that creates respect, satisfaction and loyalty.

Stop kidding ourselves

A company president picked up a consultant in his new Mercedes convertible. After talking about it, he said, “It really pleases me that our employees are so happy that I got it.”

Self-delusion tops the list of all executive errors. How long did RIM and Kodak fantasize about the viability of their respective companies? The RIM folks couldn’t tolerate the idea that their beloved Blackberrys were history, while the Kodak execs couldn’t conceive of a world without film, until it was too late. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that our picture of reality is real, even though all the signs point their fallacy.

Drop the gobblygook

There’s a bizarre belief that just about any business communication will be viewed with authority by using the right words. They range from scalable, silo, core competency, actionable, robust, bulk up, space, foot print, game changer, view from 30,000 feet, think outside the box, low hanging fruit, strategic business plan, to drill down and ROI –– as well as a hundred more. Their appeal is that they sound so compellingly “corporate.”

If the truth be told, instead of making those who use them sound smart, gobblygook sends the opposite message. The more they say, the more they make it clear to everyone that don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about.
The best solution is to avoid all the gobblygook and put it all in your own words.


It seems as if the people who really do the work in most businesses are at the bottom of the personnel charts and the closer you get to the top, the concept of work tends to be more than a bit fuzzy.

Change is in the air these days, so a good place to begin is by trashing the high-back leather chair and the “see how important I am” door-sized desk. Those with such trappings, among others, view themselves as invaluable “executives” and the hardest workers of all, who often believe they should be accorded special benefits and privileges.

All that should have gone years ago. They cause people to view themselves as important; they have a right to come in late, leave early, fly first-class and be unaccountable.

If you want to improve productivity, stop hiring consultants and come to work on time and stay all day. It works wonders.
When it comes right down to it, having put all the excuses aside, the firing up of a business is up to us. ◊