AV Matters
The Stimson Group Newsletter
August 2009
Vol 3 Issue 8
In This Issue
R&S Roadshow
AV Trends Survey
AV Matters Blog
AV Best Practices
About The Stimson Group
Quick Links
Welcome Back,

I have spent a great deal of this summer working with three major systems integration firms on their sales and operations processes. As soon as I find some free time I will blog about issues that face everyone in the audiovisual integration industry.

The AV Trends Survey is back this month and I am asking you about
business planning at your firms. I find there is not enough focus on this topic, so you can help me frame the future discussion around your best practices.

It's R&S Roadshow season again. We had a fantastic turnout in New York and are gearing up for Chicago. Let me share some observations from the July event in Yonkers.

In this month's Best Practices column I talk about how to transition from entrepreneurial can-do enthusiasm to a more sustainable can-do process.

Thanks for reading,

Tom (TR) Stimson, CTS
My Direct Email

Roadshow Header
Rental & Staging Roadshow
Kicks-off Third Year
Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Orlando here we come

The Rental & Staging Roadshow is returning to Chicago September 23rd. Once again I was privileged to provide the keynote address and to share some highlights from my Best Practices series. Andre LeJeune from InfoComm International was also on hand to deliver some of his years of experience along with part of InfoComm's extensive new rental curriculum.

Perhaps the highlight of any Roadshow is the networking time. Here my take on the general vibe topics last month in Yonkers, NY:
  • The economic downturn was worse than anticipated, but most companies have adjusted (downsized) to the point of being profitable with the business at hand.
  • Diversified companies have fared much better than the rest.
  • Rental-only companies have been hit the hardest.
  • Bid-only projects have increased in number. There are fewer non-bid projects.
  • While most manufacturers note that R&S revenues are still way down, new software systems and projection screens seem to be doing better than high technology products.
  • Stagers are hiring for Sales positions. 
  • Training is being looked at as a retention tool and a means of differentiation in slow times.
  • Customers are confirming later and are much slower to pay.
  • Financially sound companies are exploring new services, market channels, and products in order to gain an edge.
In addition I have been having more than the usual number of conversations about commissions, incentives, and cost controls. It seems that many companies made adjustments in these areas over the last year and now are dealing with a new set of challenges. I perceive that more owners and managers are open to change and willing to take on a different perspective in these trying times.

The Roadshow is a day of training, seminars, and exhibits presented by the folks at Rental & Staging Systems Magazine - the definitive publication for AV Stagers. The Roadshow is a great opportunity to get some training for the team and for your CTS holders to earn Renewal Units from InfoComm. Learn more and reserve your ticket here.

Monthly Business Trends Survey
Well, according to our plan...
If you do not have current business plan or a long range strategic plan, you are not alone. Perhaps one reason the AV Industry is having trouble coping with issues like commoditization and competition from other industries is the lack of thoughtful planning at the company level.

Take this five minute survey and share your thoughts about long range planning.

If you have an idea for a survey subject, just email me.
AV Matters Blog & Other Happenings

Much to my surprise my AV Matters Blog has been pretty popular. In fact, a major manufacturer Biamp Systems has featured AV Matters on their new industry outreach website, AVConnect.org. AV Connect was created to help AV Integrators and IT end users learn how to better work with one another and maximize the power of AV for business communication. Thank-you for checking out the AV Connect website and supporting this worthy mission.

In the meantime I have added several blog posts that outline global industry trends cited by the InfoComm 100. Follow the link to learn more about this landmark event and to download the future trends report generated by the attendees.

Here's a few recent posts:

Who Decided That A Month Is A Benchmark?

The InfoComm 100 and a Roadmap for the Future

InfoComm 100: Competitive Factors in the Near Future

InfoComm 100: Technology Factors in the Near Future

Rental, Staging, and Live Events: The Road Ahead Part 1

Read more entries on AV Matters Blog

AV Best Practices Series
When Being A Startup Is No Longer An Advantage
Transitioning From Can-Do Attitude to Can-Do Process

The Audiovisual Industry continues to grow and evolve because it attracts entrepreneurs. They like the technology, the fast pace, and the opportunity to apply innovations before anyone else. Entrepreneurs are also attracted by how quickly a young company can grow - one good-sized job can double a startup's revenue. What many owners lament is the loss of this can-do spirit in their firms. The fondly remember the excitement of the early days. Too often, the rest grew tired of the hard work and allowed internal processes to take over the pace of the business. The result is typically stagnation.

Startup companies move fast in this industry for a number of reasons. New businesses are not usually burdened by a lot of process rules, the employees (and founders) will work long hours for less money, and the general attitude is "nothing to lose." Startups will pursue big, challenging projects because they can - and if they manage to land one it will help attract other such projects. But as companies grow, new employees come aboard and want structure, the original employees want their lives back, and the banks want more predictable results. The entrepreneurial spirit often remains, but some of the shortcuts that go along with it can undermine ongoing operations. 

Don't stop thinking like an opportunist; do stop thinking like a startup.

For the entrepreneur, wholesale dedication to the next big thing is what gets him or her going in the morning. For the team trying to execute day-to-day business, this constant shifting of gears and priorities sends mixed signals. Just when you have sorted out the process and gotten things almost under control, the boss comes in with a new idea or opportunity that threatens to disrupt what little order you have created.

The solution is to evolve into an organization where entrepreneurism is institutionalized. It should have its own compartment to grow and explore ideas that will eventually enter the mainstream of the business - an incubator. In the meantime, regular business goes on. The trick is in learning how not to drop everything for the next big idea. The concept you need to apply is called anchoring.

When I review an operational system, I look for the anchors and how well they are set. Anchors are those people and processes that do not alter in the face of business opportunity. As companies grow, some naturally establish anchors. Others resist the idea and pay the price in unpredictable results from project to project. There are three main anchor types:

Anchor employees are key knowledge workers that come to work everyday and solve problems without leaving the office. (let them have lunch though) These roles may vary by company and trade. For instance, one anchor should be a person that can accurately create project estimates. Another, Integrators generally need an anchor to coordinate installation teams, product delivery, and capture job data. This is not just an administrative function, but a decision-bearing logistical person. In Live Events, the Project Managers often hold the keys to how things get done. There needs to be one PM that doesn't actually go out on shows and can handle the generic PM duties that come daily. For any role that traditionally leaves the office on a regular basis, there needs to be an anchor person left behind.

Companies build checks and balances into their processes all the time. Startups often bypass these procedures when they get busy. The most important anchor processes are review and control. Review proposals, project plans, and results. Most mistakes (ie: things that will undermine profit and/or customer satisfaction) will happen in the sales process, which includes proposal development. Customer expectations have to be carefully vetted and provided for. In some cases, they have to be managed. While some people are inherently good at this, most of us need another set of eyes.

Control processes are those that protect the data. An anchor control process is one you cannot bypass even when the owner tries to. Accounting often handles the brunt of these processes - and thereby gets a bad rap - but there are anchor control processes in how you share information for a project, how you confirm a contract, or when you can order product. For example, it is likely that any company will occasionally lose a piece of inventory (whether it's rental stock or items purchased for an install). Control processes will reduce the likelihood, but just as important they can indicate where the loss occurred so it can be avoided in the future.

At the heart of any organization are core values. In entrepreneurial companies, these values might include concepts such as can-do attitude or passionate pursuit of opportunity. Employees need to understand the anchor values of the company and provide appropriate processes and flexibility to meet those expectations. If there are no core values (or if they are not clearly defined) then anchor personnel and processes tend to take on an institutional feel: The person or process becomes more important than the outcome. When this happens, I find kingdoms
within and organization. Kingdoms are never a good thing. They often reduce flexibility and that affects customer service. Entrepreneurs are often kingdom-busters, but if the can-do attitude succumbs to mindless process then kingdoms will arise. Values are the key to stopping these practices before they start.

These three types of anchors are what allows a startup to become a going concern. As a company, you do not need to abandon your entrepreneurial spirit but you must provide the environment where it can thrive as the company grows. Anchor personnel provide continuity in support and maintain response times. Anchor processes make sure we can find the data when we need it. And anchor values ensure we protect the entrepreneurial spirit.

Thoughts? Comments?
email me!
PresenterAbout Thomas R. Stimson, MBA, CTS

Tom Stimson is celebrating over twenty-five years in the communications technology industry.  As a Consultant, Tom helps companies figure their next step and then execute their plan. For more information visit the website.