Transforming a b-to-b business

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"The best way to predict the future,” said management visionary Peter Drucker, “is to create it.” McGraw-Hill Cos.' b-to-b businesses—specifically, Platts, our energy business; McGraw-Hill Construction; and Aviation Week —have been around for almost 100 years. In addition, each is No. 1 in its market—and we want to keep it that way. Part of the future-creation process Drucker spoke of involves transformation. Digital technology and business globalization have required us to change not only how we deliver content but also to completely rethink what business we are in. Our mission goes beyond the traditional role of packaging and providing information to a predefined audience. We now aim to connect buyers with sellers and support transactions between them. We do that via: ??Information and data, with a focus on being proprietary, timely and both easily and broadly accessible. ??Work-flow tools that help buyers and sellers evaluate options and make decisions. ??Communities that build on our audiences by leveraging tools such as Pluck and strategic relationships with companies such as LinkedIn. ??Marketing services, including advertising and lead generation, with an emphasis on rich data about the leads that provide value not just to marketing departments but also directly to sales departments. ??Transaction environments and tools to enable transactions and, in the process, provide transparency to prices. All this is a major difference from the traditional media world of providing information to readers and bringing readers to advertisers. And if the above are the basics, the hard work comes with actually transforming your business. There are three key components: actively managing talent; leading and championing change; and working—effectively and efficiently. Actively managing talent means hiring from all industries and markets. Domain expertise is important, but today we need a mix of expertise in a variety of domains. The head of our Aviation Week group is a former NASA astronaut and two-time space shuttle commander. Our head of e-business comes from, and several of our IT people come from the financial industry. Talent needs to be optimized globally. We have senior people with global experience in key areas around the world, and we also have talent embedded with partners around the world. Such diversity is essential in a business environment as varied and rapidly changing as today's. Moreover, your staff must excel in both strategy and execution, balancing operational expertise and creativity. Not every person may be strong in all areas, but the team you assemble to run your business has to be extremely capable across many skill areas. Leading and championing change means that, as leaders, we are the ones who need to work for change and demonstrate our commitment. We need to communicate the vision so employees see the outcomes of change and get excited about these results. We also need to show the importance of change, the need for it or the opportunities resulting from it. Working effectively and efficiently starts with being accountable for and to the customer. Here I do not mean “the customer” in broad terms, but focused customer sets with distinct needs. For example, in construction, we focus on the specific and separate needs of architects, contractors and building product manufacturers. We align our organization to these customer sets. At the same time, we need to be efficient. That means creating shared services and certain common infrastructures. Working across businesses does make our structures more complex and requires that employees learn to work in a matrix environment, but it also gives employees access to knowledge of best practices that enhances the overall business performance. Finally, we should be transforming even when the business is doing well: People will be more open to experiment when things are going well than during tough times. It will be easier to invest in change, and it will more likely result in greater differentiation from our competitors. And the more success stories we can tell, the more open to change and transformation our people will be. Harry Sachinis is president of the Business Information Group at McGraw-Hill Cos. He can be reached at harry_
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