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Marketer Christina Lim on her experiences from retail to agencies and start-ups

I had the privilege of working in different kinds of organisations. They included large enterprise, multinational firms and start-up. Along the way, I gathered valuable lessons about how companies are run. This is a synopsis of my observations on their respective positives.

Large enterprises – processes, policies, checks and balances

I spent ten years with a home-grown grocery retailer, with over 10,000 staff and a 46-year heritage. As a social enterprise with a social mission, people have high expectation on the brand and would wait to catch them make mistakes.

I used to rant about the strict regulations that the internal audit team imposed. In reality, these people are the necessary and ardent gatekeepers. They ensure that no one broke any laws and that we do things in compliance.

Over the years, the company built and perfected detailed processes and policies. Many people in the company were also risk-averse and resistant to change. The problems with numerous reviews and checks are the longer gestation periods for launch of many new initiatives. As a result, these significantly impact the company’s speed to market.

Independent/boutique shops – strong culture, investment in talent and pride on quality

My first two jobs were with boutique advertising agencies.

“Fun” and “character” defined their cultures. Both agencies had strong influence from the founders. These companies were very selective with the kind of people they hired and the clients they serviced. They were prepared to invest in people to deliver success.

In fact, I met some of the most talented and eccentric people in the creative industry there. There were a lot of pride in their work. They believed that if they delivered good work, the money would follow. And they are not wrong.

Multinational/agency networks – smarter cost and resource management

My MNC experiences were mainly with agency networks. While many preach creativity, there was a constant shift towards delivering strong top-line and bottom-line financials. As a managing director with a P&L mandate, I spent a lot of time scrutinising the cost and revenue.

Frankly, the industry needs major re-engineering on its value chain if it was to survive in the long run. It helped to be part of the multinational networks that share back office resources, processes and policies. On top of that, we would continue to explore cost effective and efficient ways to deliver our services.

Start-ups – resolute, agility and cadence

Over the years, I became fascinated with the world of start-ups after meeting with many inspiring entrepreneurs. In an innovative leadership program with IMD Business School, I looked into business model and value chain development. The start-up space provided me with interesting learning for my study.

Joining a start-up in 2018 presented me with the opportunity to experience thing from a front row seat. In mid October of 2018, the three-year old start-up launched a NEWGEN RETAIL concept called habitat by honestbee.  Within 6 months of its launch, IGD voted to be among world’s must see retail spaces in 2018.

This feat to launch the retail concept took less than a year.

So, how did they do it?

Firstly, there were many passionate, driven and smart people, who bought into a big vision. Then, all hands were on deck to make things happen and push the envelope.

In weeks leading up to the launch, there were daily stand-up meetings. During which, teams reported on progress and issues to be resolved. Commitments were made to resolve problems and they are expected to be fixed the next day. Evidently, cadence was high on priority.

In start-ups, decisions are made fast and they are not afraid to roll with MVP (minimum viable products). They advocate quick testing and constant pivoting to achieve progress.

The start-ups are great at making things happen, as they are not bored down with tedious processes. Start-ups are always prepared to push the envelopes. And, they are all about testing small, failing and pivoting fast.

However, I think that once businesses have made things happened, they need to think about how they can stay sustainable.

Here is a checklist of good disciplines for businesses to make things last:

Develop strategic goals for growth for the mid and long terms

I believe that all businesses should set long-term strategic plans for growth, while remaining agile to respond to short term changes. Strategic goals and plans provide guidance for allocation of important resources and the directions to develop existing plans.

Pursue operation excellence

Testing and pivoting will help to deliver best practices in operations, over time. These best practices should improve the chances of succeeding in the day-to-day business, and minimise the wastage of valuable resources on recurring fixes. Clear policies and processes can facilitate easier management of the daily operation. However, it’s important to keep them simple.

Exercise financial vigilance

It is vital to regularly monitor the cost runway against revenue pipelines. I would recommend setting the runway for at least 6 months. These would inform ongoing decisions on hiring and managing variable costs on the business. A good business leader knows when to pull the plugs on projects and reorganise to stay afloat.

Manage risk and scenario planning

Every business needs to look at compliance, and build in checks. While there are safety in counsel and rules, but it should not impede the business from being responsive.

I believe in business continuity plans that prepare the organisation to respond to potential risks. It is critical to keeps track of the the changes in the business and its environment, and then conduct scenario planning to adjust resources and priorities accordingly.

Making business work – talent and culture

Last but not least, we should recognise that people as a critical part of every organisation. Invest and hire a balanced mix of specialists and generalists. Build the organisation with leaders, managers and workers. Train them, but also learn from them.Inspire and rally them through strong organisational culture

Last but not least, treat them well.

The writer is Christina Lim, former VP of marketing at honestbee and first appeared on Chrisspeak.

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