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By Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins and Paul Rogers

One thing that sets great companies apart is the ability to make high-quality decisions. But it isn’t just decision quality—the top performers also make those decisions quickly and execute them effectively. And they don’t spend too much or too little effort in the process.

So it’s important to assess your performance on all these factors—decision quality, speed, yield (or execution) and effort. A good way to begin is to survey a cross-section of people throughout the organization. You can then add rigor with face-to-face interviews and focused data gathering using the decision X-ray that we describe in our book, Decide & Deliver, and on the website www.decide-deliver.com. The goal is to answer some key questions: What percentage of the time does the organization make the right decisions? Are decisions made faster or slower than competitors? Is there too much (or too little) effort involved?

To learn more, download the PDF

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AUGUST 2010 • Jacques Bughin, Michael Chui, and James Manyika

Source: McKinsey Global Institute

Advancing technologies and their swift adoption are upending traditional business models. Senior executives need to think strategically about how to prepare their organizations for the challenging new environment.

Read article and listen to a series of podcasts on the McKinsey

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Get Control as a CEO

November 22, 2010

Resolving the CEO’s dilemma
by Bain partners James Allen and Julian Critchlow
Bain & Company
The job of the chief executive has expanded dramatically in recent years, both in scope and complexity. A job with such challenges can overwhelm the person who occupies it. And yet as Bain & Company learned in a series of 25 interviews with CEOs, many men and women are able to assert control over the job rather than let themselves be dominated by it.
Read more

Great Decisions
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By Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins and Paul Rogers

Some decisions clearly stand out as important. They’re the big, high-value strategic choices made in every part of the organization. Senior leaders decide whether to make a big acquisition. IT decides whether to invest in a major systems upgrade.

But many organizations overlook a second category that can be equally significant: operating decisions that seem small but that are made and remade frequently and generate a lot of value over time. Most companies have a similar set of decisions made day in and day out by people close to the frontlines of the business.

To identify the key decisions in these two categories, you can use a tool we call decision architecture that we describe in our book, Decide & Deliver, and on the website www.decide-deliver.com. The result is a list of your critical decisions?the top 20 or 30 decisions that must work well for the business to succeed. Once you know your critical decisions, you can identify how well they are working and take the right actions to improve them.

Download the PDF

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According to Aberdeen Group research, 96% of companies feel they have not maximized the full potential of the business from their existing customers.

This Aberdeen white paper, Providing a 360° View of the Customer, explores the benefits of improved customer loyalty and retention and identifies a strategic framework your company can use to improve performance in these areas.

In this white paper, you’ll learn:

How best-in-class companies achieve 47% higher customer retention
The four key performance criteria that distinguish best-in-class performers from the rest
Three common characteristics of top customer-oriented companies
Three steps companies must take to achieve top customer satisfaction and retention.

Download the white paper now.

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Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.

Small Business Picks Up, Preceding Fed’s Easy Money

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) — Ultimate Golf Seating in Elkhart, Indiana, has hired five workers to expand its staff to 10 as orders increase for its custom-made golf-cart seats, which start at $745.

“Demand is starting to improve,” co-owner David Vahala said. “We’re definitely making a turn this year.”

Small businesses are bouncing back as access to lending eases and consumers ramp up purchases. This would be welcome news for policy makers struggling to spur the world’s largest economy and bring down unemployment stalled near a 26-year high, because small companies account for 60 percent of job creation, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. The Fed said Nov. 3 it plans to buy another $600 billion of Treasuries, citing “disappointingly slow” progress in the recovery.

“The winds are changing in favor of small businesses,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “It is a gradual improvement, but they’re definitely more active than they were a few months ago. As these businesses re-engage, it’ll put the recovery on a more solid footing.”

The Russell 2000 Index, which tracks the small-cap segment of U.S. equity markets, has risen 19.6 percent since August 31, compared with a 14.4 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The outperformance signals investors’ rising confidence in smaller companies and those that cater to the sector, including Administaff Inc., which provides human-resource services to small and mid-size businesses.

Analysts Upgrade

The Kingwood, Texas-based company’s stock jumped 8.2 percent to $27.90 on Nov. 2 after Roth Capital analyst Jeff Martin in Newport Beach, California, upgraded the stock to buy from neutral and set a price target of $34 a share following third-quarter earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates.

The shift is echoed in announcements by larger companies ranging from SAP AG, the world’s largest maker of business- management software, to Dell Inc., the world’s third-biggest personal-computer manufacturer. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp., the largest U.S. bank by assets, last month said it plans to hire 1,000 employees in the next year to focus on companies with sales of $3 million or less.

Small-business sentiment also is healing, according to the optimism index of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville, Tennessee, which jumped in October to a five-month high.

‘Serious Improvement’

“This looks to us like the start of a serious improvement,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd. in Valhalla, New York, said in a note to clients after the NFIB report on Nov. 9. “We have long argued that a proper recovery in the broad economy requires a sustained improvement in the small-firm sector, which employs half the workforce.”

A month earlier, Shepherdson had written that September NFIB data indicated “progress is slow and small firms remain deeply depressed.”

John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics LLC in New York also were encouraged by the NFIB’s October report, which showed rising expectations for sales, better business conditions six months from now and improvement in hiring plans.

“Perhaps, at last, the small-business sector has a pulse, albeit a faint one,” the economists wrote in a Nov. 9 note to clients. “We expect small-business conditions to improve over the coming months.”

‘Performed Quite Well’

Walldorf, Germany-based SAP’s small- and medium-size enterprise business “performed quite well in the third quarter,” Bill McDermott, co-chief executive officer, said on an Oct. 27 conference call with analysts. Dell, in Round Rock, Texas, said Aug. 19 that sales to these customers grew 25 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, after a 19 percent gain the prior three months.

One source of relief for small companies is the thaw in lending, reinforced by the Fed’s quarterly survey of senior loan officers, released Nov. 8. Fed officials have held more than 40 meetings this year to try to reverse the drop in credit, and Bernanke said in an Oct. 15 speech that regulators have “seen some positive signs.”

Citigroup Inc. which claims 2,500 of the world’s 3,000 largest corporations as clients, says it also is targeting U.S. companies with less than $20 million of annual sales, and plans to hire about 200 bankers by the end of 2011 to court them. That would bring the number of small-business bankers to about 500, or one for every two North American branches.

Portfolio Revival

The revival in stock portfolios also helps by giving consumers the wherewithal to spend, said Ultimate Golf Seating’s Vahala, who is setting his sights on southern California, Arizona, Texas and the Carolinas after his first year of selling luxury seats in retirement communities such as The Villages in Florida.

“More retired customers are saying, ‘Now I can buy this seat; it’s been on my wish list for some time,’” said Vahala, 52. He sees the possibility of adding “one or two people through the end of this year and some more next year as the sales come in.”

He and his brother, Dan, also run Vahala Foam Inc., a 20- year-old company whose products go into car seats, recreational vehicles, boats and furniture. Their business, which cut staff to 65 in 2009 from about 120 before the recession, has 80 workers now and spent about $100,000 on new equipment this year. Hiring and investment would have been higher in normal years, Vahala said.

‘Coming Back Nicely’

Business is “coming back nicely,” he said, adding that workers have resumed 40-hour weeks after reduced shifts in 2009. “I’m still a little gun-shy. I wonder what’s going to happen this winter, but I feel we’ll come through it. Next year will be better.”

A pickup at small companies “could be pretty dramatic for stocks,” said Joseph Kremer, director of mid-, small- and micro-cap value strategies in Cleveland for Fifth Third Asset Management, which oversees about $20 billion.

“A renaissance in small, private businesses would ripple through the economy,” he said. Companies that sell to U.S. customers “would suddenly be seeing more growth,” while so far in the recovery, “most of what the market’s been hanging its hat on is industrial demand, a lot of it fed by foreign sales.”

Kremer said a general-merchandise discount retailer such as Dublin, Georgia-based Fred’s Inc. may do well because some consumer spending “would be ginned up at the lower end.” Companies like Consolidated Graphics Inc., a commercial printer in Houston, also might benefit from an increase in small- business demand for products such as mailers, business cards and catalogs, he said.

Jobs Turnaround

Data on employment show the turnaround has begun. Small companies have added jobs in every month since March, including a 21,000 gain in October, according to ADP Employer Services in Roseland, New Jersey, and St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers LLC. Medium-sized businesses employing 50 to 499 people expanded by 24,000, and large companies with more than 499 workers cut staff by 2,000.

“The momentum in business activity is up again, and that probably reflects the improvement in small business as well,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief economist at MF Global Ltd. in New York. “It increases the likelihood that a true, self-sustaining recovery is under way.”

More Active

The lack of an industrywide measure makes it hard to gauge progress at small, privately held companies. The Small Business Administration defines small companies as those with fewer than 500 employees. Another description, used by Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based SFN Group Inc., qualifies small customers as having annualized revenue of less than $5 million. The staffing and recruitment services provider, which changed its name from Spherion Corp. in February, said such clients are becoming more active.

“We did see some more engagement by the small accounts,” Roy Krause, chief executive officer, said Oct. 28 on SFN’s third-quarter earnings call. “That’s an issue everybody’s been talking about in the industry.”

Paychex Inc., which manages payrolls accounting for companies that employ fewer than 100 workers, said checks per client rose 1.2 percent from a year ago in the quarter ended Aug. 31, after a 1.1 percent gain in the previous quarter that broke a more than three-year-long string of declines.

“Small businesses are doing some hiring and have reduced their layoffs,” John Morphy, chief financial officer of the Rochester, New York-based company, said in a Nov. 11 interview. “Of the clients that have weathered the storm, the majority are doing well. We’re seeing stability in our sales.”

2001 Recession

Sweet at Moody’s says small businesses, which he defines as those with fewer than 50 workers, still have a lot of ground to recover. He estimates these companies accounted for 37 percent of job losses during the 18-month recession that ended June 2009, compared with 16 percent during the 2001 slump.

Demand is still uneven, credit isn’t widely available and home equity, often a source of funds for small companies, has plunged. While the government has provided assistance, it will take time to deliver results.

President Barack Obama signed small-business legislation in September that included $56 billion worth of tax cuts over the next 12 months and a $30 billion program to boost lending. That’s in addition to support from his stimulus plan, such as funding to increase limits on loan guarantees offered by the Small Business Administration.

Small companies still have “a lot of problems to work through, so their contribution will be more visible next year and even more noticeable in 2012,” Sweet said. “But they’re making progress, which at this stage of the recovery is very welcome because it keeps us moving in the right direction.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Shobhana Chandra in Washington at schandra1 Anthony Feld in New York at afeld2

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz

Find out more about Bloomberg for iPhone: http://m.bloomberg.com/iphone/

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Answering the question, “How to Choose a Programming Language” has more to do with what you are trying to accomplish than one language being better than another. Of course if you are a programmer, then go for a heavily supported language so you can find libraries and code bases to make your life easier.

To get started you need to first determine what is your application:

Websites: If you need to get a basic website created, and you don’t have any experience, then you probably don’t need to be worried about a programming language, or even HTML. Instead you should get a basic CMS, content management system, that will allow you to create pages, a quick sitemap and links to your site. I’d recommend WordPress as a quick way to get started.  It is an easy to use framework that can quickly create basic sites, yet at the same time scale for much larger organizations. WordPress has been developed in PHP. If you are getting a programmer make sure they have a background in CSS3 and HTML5, as these are some of the top protocols for juicing up your website.

    On a Shoestring Budget: If you don’t have a lot of money, and don’t expect to have a lot any time soon, then you need to pick a programming language that is widely used and adopted so you can get access lower rates per hour for programmers that will meet your needs and solutions. But a word of caution, just because you’re on a shoe string budget, doesn’t mean that you need to be sacrificing proper planning for your application. Cobbling an application together without proper planning can cost a lot more money to get fixed than getting it done properly the first time.

    Content Management Systems: If you have a lot of pictures, videos, articles, and new pages that are going to continuously be produced then you should consider using a robust CMS. Although WordPress is a great choice, it might not be as fully integrated as you might like. If you are looking for a complete list of CMS’ see below. There are many others out there, and the list that I provided will continue to evolve, but what you really want to search for is how active the community is in order for you to get the most number of add-ons modules.

    Online Applications: If you have a very specific application you are developing, I first suggest finding a framework out there that has already been created and then building up from there leveraging best practices and design patterns to help you build a more robust application.  Of course, each framework has its advantages and disadvantages, which will be dependent on your application. You could also be like the guys from 37Signals, who created Ruby on Rails, their own framework on the Ruby Language.

    What is the difference between a language and a framework? A framework is developed on a language, but depending on the framework you can code in possibly various languages to get the framework to work, such as .NET, which you can code in VB.NET, C#, or J#, then run it through the compiler to a common language infrastructure.

    Touch Screen Applications / Mobile are the new rave with iPad, iPhones, Android Phones, etc. One framework that you can check out is Sencha. It’s venture backed and works with the Google Web Toolkit (GWT). You can also check out MobGenie to find portability to different mobile phones.

    Though it is debatable, the top 10 languages in order are:

    1. Java
    2. C
    3. C++
    4. PHP
    5. Javascript
    6. Python
    7. C#
    8. Perl
    9. SQL
    10. Ruby

    The top web frameworks would be as followed. Term framework isn’t really accurate, but it’s a start.

    PHP based Frameworks

    Python Based Frameworks

    Ruby

    Javascript / AJAX

    Just in case you are still unsatisfied with our CMS recommendations above, check out the list below:

    This is a list combined from personal experience and a few good websites. My point is not to give you commentary on each and every one, but for you to quickly go through the list and find the one that fits you.

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