The Coloplast Experiment

April 25, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Here is one of my favorite examples of the value of greater transparency around intangibles.

This experiment was performed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) Corporate Reporting practice a number of years ago. It used involved creating two versions of an annual report of Coloplast, a Danish company recognized as a  leader in corporate reporting.

  • The first was an original version of the Coloplast annual report. In addition to the normal information in an average annual report (financial statements, narrative, and a few key metrics), this report included extensive  quantified non-financial indicators to make a clear link between its strategy and its financial performance.
  • The second version of the annual report stripped out the quantified non-financial data. The stripped-down report was still richer in detail than the annual reports provided by most companies in the market. But the  critical non-financial metrics were missing.

Two groups of analysts reviewed the different reports. The conclusions were striking.  Read more

Manage Reputation by Managing Intangibles

February 16, 2011 by · Comments Off 

It is actually interesting and somewhat perplexing to us that sustainability reporting has received more attention to date than intangibles reporting. The reason this book has a chapter on reputation is that we feel that intangibles management is a key determinant of corporate reputation. The current lack of information available to stakeholders about intangibles puts corporate reputation at increasing risk.

When there is incomplete information about the details of business, reputation becomes a proxy for its overall success. That’s how small problems can have much greater effect than perhaps they should. If stakeholders do not have a clear picture of what’s going on, they will assume the worst. In the long run, we believe that good intangibles management and transparent communication will diminish the wild swings of reputation that many companies experience today. In the short run, you can make this happen yourself. Read more

Reputation and Intangibles – Connecting the dots

February 15, 2011 by · Comments Off 

My last few posts have been about reputation. There are some out there that would ask what the big deal is. What’s different now? Companies have always had employees and customers. Why do they have more influence now?” Why do I need to think about reputation more than before? There are actually several forces driving this change.

The first driver is the shift in the control of the means of production. In the industrial era, a company’s profits were driven by what it owned. Workers had to come to the employer to get access to the means of production. It gave companies a greater level of control over its workers. With the rise of the knowledge economy, however, the knowledge held by employees and, indeed, external stakeholders have become an important part of a corporation’s “means of production.” The knowledge factory relies on the unique contribution of human and relationship capital elements. This shift in the balance of power means that companies have to pay more attention to the interests and priorities of their stakeholders as “partners” in the success of the knowledge factory.

The second driver of the increased focus on reputation is the acceleration of communications. If you didn’t understand this before, you certainly do now given the events of wikileaks, Tunisia, and Egypt. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are just the latest developments in a society that had already developed 24-hour news. It is easier than ever before for anyone to get a message out. Sometimes all it takes is a blog post or a YouTube video by one disgruntled customer to go viral and threaten your reputation in an instant.

The third driver is an increased interest in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Sustainability is an umbrella term for a number of related trends including corporate social responsibility and triple bottom line. CFO magazine defines sustainability as “the practice of publicizing a company’s environmental and social risks, responsibilities and opportunities…it can be thought of as an environmental-impact statement for the entire corporation, with ‘environment’ defined not only in terms of natural resources and climatological effects but also the economic and social impacts of labor practices, charitable endeavors and governance structures.”

The fourth and final driver is the lack of transparency of intangibles. There is a shocking lack of information available to internal and external stakeholders about the knowledge side of business. So when news does get out about a problem or a failure, then the reaction is swift and often very negative. If your stakeholders don’t understand how your business works and don’t receive periodic information beyond just the financials, then bad news is a warning to get out. The less your stakeholders understand about your business and the less you share about non-financial aspects of it, the more vulnerable you are to severe reactions to bad financial news.

You need to consider all four drivers as you think about managing your reputation. But we ask you to pay special attention to the last driver—intangibles reporting. You have a lot of control over your reputation—if you are getting the kind and quality of information to your stakeholders. And very few companies have developed good reporting on intangibles. That means that the 80% of corporate value that is driven by intangibles is invisible. Stakeholders can only guess at it unless you give them the information they need. This is really the goal of Intangible Capital. Helping you see, leverage and communicate about your intangibles. Because it will help you perform better AND because it will help you get the reputation you deserve.

Adapted from Intangible Capital: Putting Knowledge to Work in the 21st Century Organization by Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak.

Reputation: beyond shareholder thinking to stakeholder thinking and back again

February 7, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

When we talk about the core intangible capital of an organization, we spend most of our time focusing on the intangibles that drive customer value creation and revenue generation. This is a helpful perspective for operational performance and strategies. In this view, relationship capital focuses on the partners that help support your business model: your customers, partners and vendors.

In thinking about reputation, however, it is important to flip the perspective and see your company through the eyes of your people and your partners. As contributors to the knowledge factory, they are also stakeholders in its success. What do they think of the organization? Does it seem sustainable? Is it a place they want to be or to do business with? Read more

Intangibles, the Bottom Line and Shareholder Value

February 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

U.S. business culture is very much about results. Two of the ideas that best capture this perspective are the concepts of the “bottom line” and “shareholder value.” The bottom line is a financial calculation. As we have made clear throughout this book, the integrity of financial statements that are used to calculate the profit or loss of an enterprise is seriously compromised by their failure to address knowledge intangibles. Profit and cash flow are still important to the day-to-day survival of a business. But focusing on today’s bottom line without regard to tomorrow’s bottom line can lead you to make bad decisions: To outsource a function that should be a core competency. To fail to invest in an intangible that will preserve and protect a competitive advantage. Peter Drucker put it this way Read more

Reputation Is the New Bottom Line

January 31, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

In both the tangible and the intangible economy, the ultimate metric for all companies is and will be their ability to generate profits—a strong bottom line. Profits and the cash they provide ensure an organization’s survival.

But in the knowledge economy, it is no longer enough to just produce a strong bottom line. Read more

The Emperor Has No Clothes and why we still have not addressed the intangible information gap

January 28, 2011 by · Comments Off 

One of the most graphic depictions of the shift from the industrial to the knowledge economy can be seen in this graph prepared by Ocean Tomo a number of years ago (here’s a larger version). The top line is total corporate value of the companies in the S&P 500. The gray band at the bottom is the tangible book value of those companies. The gold band is the value of booked intangibles (usually from an acquisition). And then there is the red band. You can see that it began to grow when the personal computer was introduced in the early 1980’s and then spiked with the rise of the internet. This graph ends a few years ago but Ocean Tomo recently updated their data to show that the intangible portion of corporate value hit 81% on 2009 (the depths of the Great Recession).

This red band is the reason we focus on “intangibles.” Read more

Triangulation – Getting a complete picture of your intangibles

January 27, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Once you have a full set of data about your intangibles, how should you use it? We like to use the image of triangulation seen here as a way of explaining how you can use the three kinds of data that we have described to come up with a unified measurement of your intangibles.

Triangulation is an approach used in a number of disciplines (including surveying and astronomy) using known points to plot out an unknown distance or space. With intangibles, you can use these three kinds of data—investment, assessment and indicators—to plot out the landscape of your intangibles and get comfortable with the future earnings potential of your business. Read more

KPI Fever: Beware Magic Metrics

January 24, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Every company I visit these days is talking key performance indicators (KPI’s). This tells me that people understand that financial metrics aren’t (and never have been) enough to measure organizational success. But I worry about how using the shorthand KPI for all non-financial measurement could doom companies’ efforts from the start.

The problem is the word “key.” A lot of experts recommend finding a small number of key indicators that can be tracked easily so that you don’t get overwhelmed and spend all your time on measurement. I am sympathetic to this view but I am much more concerned about the danger of narrowing down your metrics too far. Part of the answer was in my last post about using some metrics for management and some for learning.

One thing is clear, however, it is never a good idea to rely exclusively on a small number of indicators. This warning is necessary because business publications are full of articles about what we call magic metrics. They offer an easy solution that will seemingly solve all your problems. Following are just a few examples. Read more

Why are you creating your measurement management system? (And do you really need a balanced scorecard?)

January 18, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

A few years ago, I read an article by Ian Graham called, What’s Wrong with Targets? Graham made the case that setting targets or goals for employees creates the wrong kind of behavior. This is because it focuses the employee on the target rather than on the underlying processes that create value for customers and stakeholders. And once a goal is achieved, there is often no reason to reach further. He also asserts that targets can be gamed. The alternative he suggests is to focus on specific processes and measure everything you can with an eye to continuous learning. His perspective comes out of the quality movement and the concept of continuous improvement.

We thought of Graham recently when we read an article about the games that colleges play to ensure that they meet the thresholds for statistics used by US News and others to “rank” colleges. Areas that can be manipulated include soliciting alumni donations of as little as $1 to increase their alumni giving percentage, giving more weight to applicant GPA and SAT scores than in the past, and manipulating class size.  Anyone who has ever worked in a for-profit or not-for-profit organization knows that goals can drive behavior in good and bad ways. Read more

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