Leverage your strengths. Whether you are an executive onboarding into a new role, leading a turn around or just looking to accelerate value creation, the answer is almost always to focus on and leverage your existing strongest talents, knowledge, skills, capabilities. If you can supplement that with ways to compensate for your relative weaknesses, so much the better.
Disney had stalled in the early 1980s. Roy Disney and Stanley Gold approached business leader Frank Wells about taking over. He immediately suggested they talk to creative executive Michael Eisner. They ended up offering Eisner and Wells co-CEO jobs. But Eisner only wanted to play as sole CEO. Wells immediately said fine, he’d be President and COO. And so began a magical partnership and turn around story.
Together they focused on four of Disney’s existing, lapsed or under-leveraged strengths: animation, parks, land and characters. They:
– Rebuilt the animation studio. Between 1978 and 1988 Disney released four relatively weak animated films. Between 1989 and 1999 they released nineteen starting with The Little Mermaid and working through movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, and Toy Story.
– Raised admission prices in the parks. The parks operated at capacity and top levels of guest satisfaction. Over ten years Wells and Eisner doubled admissions prices. They still operated at capacity and top levels of guest satisfaction — just much more profitably.
– Built out the land. When Wells and Eisner arrived, Walt Disney World’s land was occupied by three theme parks and three hotels — on 44,000 acres (roughly the size of Manhattan island). They built out more parks, attractions and hotels, taking hotel revenue from250MM to1.25B.
– Built out Disney stores. Disney had been licensing out its characters for a share of product revenue. Wells and Eisner kept this and built over 500 Disney stores from which they captured all the product revenue.
This is a great example of leveraging strengths to accelerate value creation.
Nicholas Carlson paints a frightening picture of what’s been going on at Yahoo (New York Times Magazine: “What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs”) He suggests that two years after Mayer started her turn around efforts over 100 percent of Yahoo’s value is in its Alibaba stock. Mayer has continued and accelerated Yahoo’s decline by downplaying its online advertising heritage strengths and trying to turn it into a product company.
Bad choice. She would do much better guiding Yahoo to reclaim its content authority. Remember, this was the organization that made the web accessible. For most, the web is still a mysterious place filled with weird apps operating in weird ways. Yahoo would do far better returning to its roots, but better.
It gets worse.
Not only has Mayer missed the opportunity to leverage Yahoo and her own strengths, but she has failed in her efforts to compensate for its and her own relative weaknesses. Her first big hire of Henrique de Castro as COO hit two of the three main causes of executive onboarding failure as Mayer failed to vet, guide and support him. This follows on from her own missteps and poor execution of her own onboarding and 100-day action plan.
Procter & Gamble
Leveraging your strengths is one of the basic tenets of Procter & Gamble’s training. When faced with the choice of accelerating growth in an over-performing market or fixing an under-performing market you are always always always better off investing more in the over-performing market. Easier to add $1MM in revenue in a market where you have $50MM in revenue and a 50% share than to add the same $1MM in a market where you have $10MM in revenue and a 10% share. Always. Every time. Get the picture?
This plays out in executive onboarding as well. We always work with new leaders to understand their own and organizations’ strengths. Then we help them leverage their strengths to help organizations do even better jobs where they are strong. Easier for leaders. Easier for organizations. Produces better results faster. What’s not to like?
Implications for you
If this is a new idea to you, it’s one of the most important you’ll ever learn. If you already know this, you’ll appreciate being reminded. Leverage your strengths first. Compensate for weaknesses second. Learn from Yahoo’s mistakes and Disney’s success.
By George Bradt