Benchmarking & Data

Insulate Your Company From “Self-Blind” Leadership


Take a look at the following statistics and see if you can identify a troubling trend:

  • 84% of Frenchmen estimate that they are above average lovers.
  • 68% of University of Nebraska faculty rated themselves in the top 25% in teaching ability.
  • 93% of US students estimate themselves to be “above average” drivers.

See a pattern here?  Overconfidence isn’t just a phenomenon in the general public.  It literally runs rampant in certain quarters of the business world.

Steven RowleyInsulate Your Company From “Self-Blind” Leadership
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ESSA UPDATE: Are ESSA’s New Evidence Requirements a Hard Stop for You?


It’s a big issue!  ESSA establishes a very high threshold defining what schools can now assert as “evidence” to support product purchases.  Anecdotal success stories are out. Soft research beefed up with marketing jargon won’t pass muster.  Strong alignment with rigorously performed theoretical work is now the minimum starting point and no longer the key to school funding.

So…how big of a problem is “Evidence” to you as ESSA takes full effect this fall?

Short of clear ESSA Rules & Regulations being available to soften the blow, the definition of “Evidence” as outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act is the minimum standard that legislators, educators, and commercial partners must meet.

Here are a few obsolete “NCLB” data strategies that every vendor must rethink:

Steven RowleyESSA UPDATE: Are ESSA’s New Evidence Requirements a Hard Stop for You?
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What is your Competitive Strategy?


You have your business plan. You may even have five- and ten-year plans for what you want to accomplish and financial goals to achieve. You’ve probably agonized for hours over the precise wording to put in your mission statement… but what’s your competitive strategy?

Michael E. Porter, renowned Harvard Business School professor and author, describes competitive strategy as “relating a company to its environment. Although the relevant environment is very broad, encompassing social as well as economic forces, the key aspect of the firm’s environment is the industry or industries in which it competes. “ Michael Porter further goes on to define earning the highest ROI in your industry as the ultimate goal for your strategy.

Fortune 500 companies consistently compare themselves to their competitors and markets. They also are clear and precise on exactly what they do and how they do it. But, benchmarking is not simply for big corporations; companies of all sizes need to have a clear idea of their strategic priorities in order to gain a competitive edge and succeed. Knowing which competitive strategy to choose and how to maximize its potential is just one of the many ways you can get noticed and be profitable in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

Strategic priorities can easily be broken down into three categories. And your company fits into one of the following categories 1) even if you don’t know it yet and 2) even though you are not a huge company like the examples we use below.

Operational Excellence: These companies strive to excel at cost leadership. They implement every tactic to improve efficiency and performance, to cut out excess spending, eradicate errors, and get products and services to their clients in the quickest, most efficient way possible. Customers learn to expect a standardized product or experience that is the same each time. Think Fed Ex, Walmart, or McDonalds.

Customer Intimacy: These companies strive to excel at offering personalization to the customer, yet still uphold a cost value to its customer. Their customers can pick and choose services to create a solution that is a good fit for their needs while still staying on budget. The company must obtain insights to their customer’s needs and the solution is not the cheapest option on the market, and also not necessarily the most innovative. These companies adapt and change with customer needs and the temperature of the marketplace. Think Amazon, Nordstrom and Mercedes.

Product Leadership: These companies constantly innovate the marketplace with products and services meant to mesmerize their customers. They create the products that customers “must have now” and the customer experience that keeps them coming back for more. Creativity and teamwork are hallmarks of their success. Think Apple, BMW and Fidelity Investments.

Where do you stand?
All businesses, regardless of size, need to choose a focused competitive strategy. Just like creating your mission statement offers guidelines for who you are as a business, understanding your competitive strategy in the marketplace offers direction and focus which leads to greater sales and success.
A good business strategy is only as good as the data used to inform those assumptions. Contact Acumen Partners today to learn more about the ways we help companies just like yours to gain clarity about your business strategy and close the performance gaps that cost you revenue.

Jack ElliottWhat is your Competitive Strategy?
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What about Taking it to the Next Level: Hiring for Purpose and Fit


Hooray! You work for fun company with a great idea and a visionary founder at the helm. And now the conundrum: Why is your company unlikely to thrive?

The vast majority of seed-stage companies which fit this description are run by a few people who share a common vision and strategy. However they often lack a second, third, or even fourth in command to implement the vision of the founder. While these entrepreneurs share each other’s passions and can work well together, they rarely include a different point-of-view or complementary action style.

Does this sound familiar? How can you improve the odds for your success? One idea: Start by assessing whom, what, and where you are currently. Then consider what pieces (skill sets, experience, temperament) you are missing. Looking at people you already know who could fill this gap is generally a better strategy for losing friends rather than growing one’s business strategically. And professional recruiters are great for sourcing and screening talent – but often require a substantial upfront payment for their services. And what if you need more than sourcing, screening, and negotiating? Do you know how to write the job description? Can you specifically describe the talents and personal acumen you want in your new team members? Are you prepared to onboard for success? There is another way. How about an objective assessment of you and your current leadership team combined with consultation on the kind of team members you need to best meet your growth goals?

An Acumen Partners Baseline assessment includes an in-depth analysis of your company, your competitive market position, and the natural skills of your existing team. Understanding these elements can vastly improve your chances for success and the data-driven report is something you can share with investors with confidence.

Acumen clients also have access to the services of an experienced recruiting team who works for you to write that specific job description and ideal-candidate profile as well as to source viable candidates. Our onboarding specialists can help you hire and retain top talent through a training program to ensure the best possible experience for your new employees and your firm. And Acumen shares the risk We spread our very-competitive fees over the first year of employment and we guarantee the placement for 1 year on a prorated basis. If the new hire doesn’t work out, you stop paying us. It’s that simple.

Improve your odds for success and allow your visionaries to do what they do best. Call today to schedule an OnTarget Baseline with Acumen Partners.

Gloria ElliottWhat about Taking it to the Next Level: Hiring for Purpose and Fit
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Success or Failure…May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Business pundits often use stark numbers to capture attention. They throw out statistics like:
“80% of businesses fail in their first year!” or
“95% of businesses fail within the first 5 years!”

The truth is that new businesses are more likely to be alive after 5 years than to be dead. Better yet, for each year past their 5th birthday, the likelihood of survival actually improves! That’s the good news.

The real danger faced by entrepreneurs isn’t outright “failure” per se. It is actually the “failure to thrive”. After adjusting for companies with no employees and averaging across industries, the picture of operating companies posting consistent profits (i.e. “thriving”) looks very much like the standard bell curve. If we define “thriving” as EBITDA of 10% or better each year, that means that 85% of businesses are not thriving. It implies that 30% of businesses struggle to post profits or break even each year. The rest are actually losing money on an annual basis. Ouch.

The top reasons for failure to thrive hold true across companies of all sizes. They include:
  • Inadequate cash flow/poor cash management
  • Insufficient leadership & management
  • Lack of clear focus or purpose across the organization
  • Inaccurate market perceptions
  • Poor or faulty reporting/transparency
  • Emotions/politics trump over sound reasoning

All of these hurdles have at least one thing in common. They are all solvable. If all of these stumbling blocks can be removed, why do they continue to plague companies year after year? What do the 15% of companies that thrive know that their market companions do not? What practices can non-thriving companies adopt to change their trajectory?

  • Use Data to Get Your Bearings: Thriving companies employ strategies that prioritize data in the decision making process. The best data strategies collect information from both internal and external sources. The investment they make in data best practices is rewarded by ongoing profitable operations.
  • Prioritize Efforts to Make Changes: No company can address every element that needs attention simultaneously. Thriving companies have disciplined approaches to identifying challenges, understanding the impact, and focusing resources to resolve the challenges with the highest ROI.
  • Employ a Process of Ongoing Improvement: Thriving companies have adopted some form of ongoing continual improvement. Larger companies benefit from structured approaches like Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, or Lean. Smaller companies are able to get great results from less formal improvements models such as PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). The key isn’t in which process gives the best results. It is formally adopting and executing some process of continual improvement that prioritizes objective data driven insights.

Bottom line is that most companies are capable of thriving. Their failure to do so isn’t tied to the market they are in. It is the result of an inadequate understanding of the metrics of both their own company and their competitive landscape. By introducing objective data into their decision-making and planning processes, they could quickly change the trajectory of their business and join the 15% of businesses that flourish.

Steven RowleySuccess or Failure…May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor
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