Staying relevant in a disrupted industry: Lessons from Eckersley Group

Businesses need to move with the times, something that Tom Eckersley quickly realised when he took over his father’s company, Eckersley Group, with his brother in 1991. Providing a broad range of printed materials to businesses across Australia, the introduction of the digital age has meant Tom’s had to update his product and service offering frequently in order to remain relevant.

Keeping pace with digital transformation

“The advent of digital technology has completely changed the way both our customers and we as a business look at printed products,” explains Tom. “Marketing has undergone huge transformations – our clients are connecting with their customers in completely different ways, everyone is trying to decide on the best medium to communicate through, and there’s now a far greater range of products to choose from.”

Rather than seeing the digital transformation as a challenge to overcome, Eckersley Group chose to work directly with new technology to provide a range of innovative, highly relevant products. These mainly focus around targeting printed media to increase engagement. “Instead of printing a generic brochure that goes out to 100,000 people, we’ll now produce 1,000 but they’ll be aimed at a specific sector or group. We’ll use data to individually personalise content, and through this we’ll increase engagement.”

From the business end, the technology Eckersley Group uses to produce material has changed dramatically over the years. Tom’s invested in a range of new technologies to keep up with this, particularly digital production equipment. “We decided it was best to concentrate on a few core activities rather than a broad range of service offerings. This has meant we’ve been able to carve out a niche slice of the market without over-stretching ourselves.”

A dynamic duo

The print industry is one where, as Tom explains, dynamism is key. “We need to be incredibly responsive to the market, we can’t work on one model from yesteryear, we need to change our business model constantly in order to keep up with the pace of technological transformation.”

Tom and his brother realised that, in recent years, there’s a clear need for an end-to-end supply solution in the print industry. Eckersley Group responded to this by focusing on logistics. “We’re no longer just providing the product. Instead, we’re looking at end-to-end solutions, including supply, warehousing and distribution into our offering,” says Tom.

It’s this dynamism that’s gotten Eckersley Group to where it is today – a highly successful business that’s developed and grown over the years, taking on a number of other printing companies and adding them into the core. This has enabled Tom and his brother to receive acclaim from the print community, winning Craftsman Awards consistently for the quality of work they produce.

An outside perspective

In a family business like Eckersley Group, where meetings can take place around the dining room table as much as in the office, it’s essential to get an outside perspective. For Tom, TEC was able to provide that objectivity. “I met someone many years ago who was having a similar experience to me in terms of running a family business. He mentioned TEC and suggested that I go along to one of the meetings. From there, I never looked back. TEC’s given us that broader range of input and objectivity that we needed. When you’re in a family business, you’re so involved with everything and you have been all your life, so it’s important to get some perspective.”

As well as talking over issues around the table, Tom also enjoys hearing from the public speakers that TEC brings in. “The speakers bring a different dimension, they bring a lot of expertise to a particular topic, whereas with the group we can get that broader advice. Both have worked really well in improving my decision making at Eckersley Group.”

Fast Facts:

Established in: 1971 (Tom and his brother took over in 1991)

Industry: Printing

Size: 30 staff and around 1,000 clients

Markets: Australian SMEs, corporates, governments, some individuals especially book publishers

Product range: 1,000s of productions over 100 different categories, covering all marketing materials, printed matter and business stationery, both from a digital production and a traditional offset production point of view

The art of defining a market for business: Lessons from Norwest Recruitment

60% of Australian small businesses will fail within the first three years. When polled, 44% of failed Australian businesses suffered from ‘poor strategic management’ and 40% ‘fell victim to inadequate cash flow.’ Many of these businesses failed not because of a lack of opportunity but because they were not able to properly define their market and execute related strategies. In fact, small businesses have been opening m­­ore often throughout Australia due to favourable economic conditions; though all the components for success may be there, the focus and the market research is not.

Since 2002, Norwest Recruitment has operated with a simple goal: connecting businesses to the talent they need to grow and thrive. With over 20 business awards — and a ranking of 47th on the BRW Fast 100 — Norwest Recruitment has been a clear success in the competitive market of permanent and temporary employee recruitment. Erica Westbury, CEO of Norwest Recruitment, has achieved this success not only by identifying the commercial and residential growth within the North West but by also committing fully to the opportunities it represented.

Embrace the challenge

In Australia, recruitment services is not a growing industry. In fact, it experienced a downsizing of -0.4% between 2012 and 2017. This is significant, as nearly all sectors experienced growth. Since 2002, the unemployment rate in Australia has been generally falling, with a peak in 2009 and again in 2015. With this information in hand, it might be easy to think that a recruitment agency wouldn’t be able to succeed.

But it was a thorough understanding of the local market that led Erica to her conclusions. Erica realised that the recruitment agencies that already existed in Norwest Business Park weren’t offering premium-level professional services. Recruitment services were being ignored because they offered both poor customer service and a substandard talent pool. Recruitment services had developed a bad reputation.

By understanding the challenges facing the recruitment industry — one of poor reputation and a flooded workforce — Erica was able to position Norwest Recruitment in an area of the market that was not yet filled. By offering premium temporary and professional talent, she was able to sidestep issues related to low unemployment rates and a stagnant market. Norwest Recruitment became a resource through which HR departments could find the best professional talent. And this was something businesses would always need, even when the market was flooded.

Do it better

When asked about competition tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, once said, ‘If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what takes them a year to achieve.’

Businesses need to view their competition as a benchmark and should always be attempting to improve upon their work product. For Norwest Recruitment, it wasn’t just about providing a better talent pool. It was also about providing a better experience, refining processes, and reducing overhead. Businesses today need to be able to stay ahead of their technology, pivot when the market changes, and understand their customer’s needs. Often, a business will even be called upon to anticipate market and customer changes long before the change occurs.

Erica knew that in order to break into the market of recruitment and employment, she had to be able to do it better. There are hundreds of options available for companies that simply want access to a talent pool, but it was better customer service that many HR departments were looking for. By improving upon customer service and putting clients first, Erica was already a step ahead in the game.

The risk in decision-making

As a CEO, you’re faced with difficult decisions every day. Making challenging decisions can be the difference between success or failure, it could even change the entire course of your business. It is easy to fall into the habit of choosing the safest decision to achieve expected results and avoid the risk of being wrong. This may decrease risk but it does not improve results.

It is essential, as a business owner, to remain committed to your choice and be aware that no matter what option you choose, your efforts to support the success is far more important than the cost of being ‘wrong’. Erica’s decision to build a business in a saturated market was associated with great risk. The focus was not on whether this was the right decision to make – rather Erica did everything she could to ensure that her decision turned out right. The success of this is reflected in the 15 business awards won by Norwest Recruitment, including the 2014 Hills Local Business Awards, the 2011 Fairfield City Local Business Award, and the NPAWorldwide Australia/New Zealand Top Revenue Achieved Award.

Learn from other business owners

Business owners must never stop learning. Not only is there a wealth of knowledge out there available from other business owners, but the market itself may change with the times. Business owners need to stay on top of new technology, need to refine their leadership skills and learn new management techniques. They must understand modern accounting standards and have the strategy skills necessary to grow and expand in often challenging marketplaces.

Through TEC, Erica was able to reach out to other business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals. She was able to listen to experienced and accomplished TEC speakers and connect to a like-minded community that could offer her support and resources. Through this professional community connection, Erica was further able to build her knowledge and confidence as a leader. It’s time you belong to a peer network and learn from the best. Get in touch with TEC today.

How to successfully manage business mergers: Lessons from PwC

Between 70% to 90% of mergers and acquisitions will ultimately fail. Managing a business merger requires a delicate and experienced hand. Not only do you need to consider the direction and fundamentals of both organisations, but you also need to consider culture, strategy, and vision. Mergers tend to be particularly hard on staff members, both because it is a tumultuous time and because the future may feel uncertain — and this is where true leadership becomes essential.

Here’s how Rob Ashley, advisory principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers and a member of TEC, has been able to counter these challenges and achieve tremendous success.

Understand the importance of decision-making

A business, at its core, is really just a series of decisions. Not every decision must be perfect — what is important is that the decision is made. It’s estimated that the average adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions per day, and each of these decisions carry with them consequences and direction.

Business owners will be called upon to make a tremendous number of decisions throughout the business acquisitions process. These range from the dissolution of certain corporate assets to the retention of human resources. Each of these decisions impact the business itself, its employees, and its clientele. And with thousands upon thousands of decisions occurring, it’s important that a leader not get bogged down.

Rob Ashley was able to create a comprehensive planning process, which covered both an internal focus on the organisation and an external client engagement strategy. Through this planning process, Ashley was able to control all elements of the merger and facilitate decision-making processes. Though not every decision may have been perfect, they were made quickly and competently, running like a well-oiled machine.

Alignment of strategy

Why do mergers so frequently fail? If it was just about financial due diligence, one would expect most business mergers to be a success. But businesses are more than just what they appear to be on paper: they are a collection of strategies and goals. A business has its own direction and culture, and compatibility is very important. When polled, 33% to 50% of respondents cited cultural differences as the leading issue with a merger.

When businesses are aligned in terms of strategies, goals, and culture, they can readily work towards a singular destination. When businesses are not aligned, they begin to pull apart at the seams — and it is the human element that is lost. Companies need to be prepared to align their goals in terms of their values and their client base if they are to work together.

Recognising this, Rob Ashley placed a premium on communication and collaboration. He understood the need to engage staff members of both teams, alongside their client base, and to ensure that everyone involved was working together towards the same goals.

Maintain a consistency of service

Most mergers will lead to an increase in services. But though this may sound like a benefit, it can actually be detrimental. Ultimately, it will lead to the dilution of the company’s branding. In order to support a company culture and the comfort of both employees and clientele, it’s important to maintain consistency of service. That means that as services are added, they also need to be folded into the new company mission that both businesses now share.

In order to improve upon employee alignment, maintain happiness, and motivate employees, it is necessary to ensure that as much of the business as possible remain consistent. But it’s also important not to overestimate the value of synergies; 70% of business mergers overestimate the amount of revenue synergy they can expect.

Rob Ashley found that the increase in services was not only a benefit to the company’s clientele, but also the company’s own access to their now expanded talent pool. At the same time, conscientious work had to be done to ensure that the company’s offerings remained consistent with its mission statement and that the value of these benefits was not overestimated.

Enhance your personal life

As exciting as a merger may be, it is equally mentally and emotionally taxing. As a leader, it’s easy to become absorbed by your work and lose touch with the outside world. Though you may not feel it, those around you do; everything you do affects your end work product. Diet, sleep, and exercise can all have an adverse impact on your decision-making skills. You are the foundation of your brand — and because of this, you need to take care of yourself first.

Harvard Business Review explored why good leaders can sometimes make bad decisions. HBR found that bad judgments often occur due to red flag conditions, such as ‘the presence of inappropriate self-interest’, ‘the presence of distorting attachments’, and the ‘presence of misleading memories’. All of these are emotionally influenced conditions that can occur when mood is not properly managed.

As an experienced business professional, Rob Ashley realised that his personal health and mood could impact the way that he handled his merger. So Rob Ashley sought TEC. Since joining TEC, Rob Ashley was able to find a community of like-minded people that he could connect with.

Managing mergers successfully

Mergers and acquisitions involve a lot of moving parts. Decision-making, strategies, services, and even your personal health all need to be combined into a sum that is greater than each part. When anything is out of sync, things can fall apart — and they often do. But your business doesn’t have to be one of the 90% of businesses that fail through a merger; it can be one of the 10% that ascends to far greater heights. All you need to do is be able to properly manage those four key aspects of the transition.

Managing mergers is not a skill that you can develop overnight. It’s something that requires experience, expertise, and guidance. If you want to learn more about how businesses such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (and experts such as Rob Ashley) have been able to build their vision and grow, get in touch with TEC today.

 

 

The guide to organisation structures (flat vs hierarchical)

Is it time to redesign your organisational structure? Though many companies can benefit from a restructuring, fewer than a quarter of organisational redesigns actually succeed. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Organisations can undergo successful restructuring as long as they understand the differences between organisational structures (flat, hierarchical, matrix etc)— namely, their benefits and their drawbacks.

Why structure?

An organisation’s structure forms the very basis of its operations. Not only does it inform employees regarding who they answer to, but it also identifies core decision makers and defines the company culture. Without structure – even a loose structure – there can be no decision-making and no accountability.

However, the type of structure is often up for debate. Most businesses either operate on a flat structure or a hierarchical structure, depending on their needs.

Flat organisational structures

Flat organisational structures forego the concept of middle management entirely. Instead, staff members exist directly under executives, often working in teams rather than independently. Flat organisational structures may still include ‘team leaders,’ but these leaders will generally shift on a per project basis. During times of business growth, these teams may change substantially.

Ideally, a flat organisational structure is designed to empower individual staff members. As they must take on a greater role within the business, they become personally motivated to succeed. Without middle managers, there also exists no additional layer between the executive level and the staff level – making it easier to communicate and adapt.

Valve Corporation, a leading video game developer and digital distribution system, is one of the best-known examples of a large organisation that operates on the flat hierarchical model. Rather than assigning permanent managerial staff, Valve rotates its leaders on a per-project, per-team basis. Rather than creating permanent departments, Valve allows its employees to choose the type of work that they want to do.

With approximately 250 employees and an estimated worth of $2 to $4 billion, Valve is considered one of the most successful companies within its industry. CEO Gabe Newell reports that the company is more profitable per employee than either Google or Apple. At the same time, its flat management hierarchy has been the target of intense and widely publicised criticism in the past. It is also possible its structure is so successful because the company is comparatively small.

Many of the criticisms levied upon Valve are the same criticisms levied against flat organisational structures in general. Failing the development of an official management structure, an unofficial management structure will often arise. Instead of being told who to report to, employees may begin looking towards arbitrarily selected authorities for their cues. These authority figures are often selected due to their seniority or connections within the company, and may not necessarily be those best suited to the role.

Hierarchical organisational structures

In a hierarchical structure, an organisation is comprised of multiple layers. Every employee within the organisation answers to someone, with the CEO generally being at the very top. At the very bottom, entry-level staff members may answer to multiple managers, supervisors, and executives.

Hierarchical structures have several advantages. In a hierarchical structure, employees know where to look for in terms of direction and they know whom they report to. Employees can focus on simpler tasks, rather than having to self-motivate and self-organise. Employees also have something to work towards, as they may be able to climb the hierarchy in time. This type of organisation is highly structured, so that business growth provides very limited disruption.

With over 1.5 million employees in the United States alone, Walmart has been able to leverage its hierarchical structure to create consistency and efficiency throughout thousands of branches. At the bottom of the hierarchy are cashiers, stockers, and sales associates. At a level above them are customer service supervisors and merchandise supervisors.

These supervisors fall under a management trainee, which in turn falls under the assistant manager, co-manager, and general manager. On a regional level there will be a market manager, operations manager, or state general manager. And all of this falls under the existing executive-level hierarchy for the corporation itself.

It’s understandable that this type of organisational structure could be seen as quite unwieldy, especially for smaller businesses. A hierarchical structure is often slower to react and adapt than a flat structure, and departments are often forced to operate independently. The increased administrative time may also lead to substantially higher overhead.

Other types of organisational structures

Though flat and hierarchical organisational structures are the most popular, there are other alternatives. One such model is the “holacracy” model, developed by HolacracyOne, LLC and famously adopted by Zappos. Holacracy operates through teams rather than a management hierarchy, putting an emphasis on self-management on an individual level.

This model is designed to empower employees to advance their own goals in the ways that they see fit. However, with this much emphasis on personal responsibility and motivation, holacracy is a structural model that depends highly on the individuals within it.

What’s your structure?

What type of organisational structure does your business use? Is it as effective as you hoped? Organisation restructuring is common as a business goes through periods of growth. Often, when inefficiencies begin to arise in the usual business process, it’s time to reconsider how business-as-usual is run.

It’s important to note, however, that there isn’t a ‘perfect’ structure to fit each company. It’s about understanding your business strategy, the direction and the overall vision of your business. The structure chosen needs to be a cultural fit, but also allows facilitates the growth trajectory desired by the business.

If you’d like to learn more about organisational structures, or want to share your thoughts on this topic, contact us here.