Organisational Alignment – the universal foundation of enterprise success

November 5, 2015

GeeseIf I offered you one free ticket to a presentation given by an acknowledged world authority on each of the following topics, which presentation would you opt to attend? Remember, you can only go to one of them. The choices are:

I think it’s a fair bet that you didn’t choose Organisational Alignment – not really sexy, is it? No doubt you’ve said to yourself at some stage or other – “I wish my employees were more engaged” or “we need to manage change much better than we do” or “our teams program seems to be running out of steam” but I doubt if you have ever said – “We need much greater organisational alignment”

Yet without organisational alignment every other success factor suffers and the organisation’s ability to bring the enterprise strategy to fruition will fail.

Most observers regard Organisational Alignment as something that relates only to the employees of an organisation. They use a three part definition as follows.

■          Everyone understands where the organisation is now (current reality)

■          Everyone understands the destination (goal) and the journey (strategies to get there)

■          Everyone understands their role in getting there

Enterprise Alignment precedes Organisational Alignment

However before the staff of an organisation can be aligned, the organisation itself needs to be aligned as well. Management has to determine the current reality; management has to agree an overall goal; management has to develop the strategies to achieve it and, lastly management must allocate responsibilities to everyone in the organisation so each may play their role in its implementation. And at the core of this whole exercise is a matching process – let’s call it Enterprise Alignment. It’s the matching of the current and future trends and characteristics of the organisation’s external environment in which it operates with its current and future resources and expertise.

In short Enterprise Alignment is a prerequisite to Organisational Alignment.

Let me illustrate this with two examples. The first involves skeins of migrating geese so beloved by management consultants as exemplars of teamwork. It’s a powerful, emotive analogy but the basis of their performance and subsequent teamwork is Organisational Alignment. The geese can only demonstrate the essence of teamwork because the members of the skein agree where they are now, share a common objective, know the direction in which they need to fly and understand the roles each need to play when the skein is in flight. Even more fundamentally, the need to migrate from A to B at particular times of the year is hard wired into geese. Yet such is their sensitivity to short term climatic change, they will alter both the timing of their migrations and their route according to climatic conditions. This is their version of Enterprise Alignment.

The second example also concerns flight – namely the Boeing 787-9’s recently ordered by Qantas as a key strategy in the rejuvenation of their International division. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce set three criteria as prerequisites for ordering Boeing’s Dreamliner – Qantas International had to be returned to a position of sustainable profitability; the Company had to be capable of paying down its $1 billion of debt and the Qantas long-haul pilots union had to accept changes to the terms and conditions of their employment. The reason for the selection of the -9 variant of the B787 is simple. Its long range – Qantas are investigating non-stop flights from Australia to London – provides Qantas with a resource that matches the trends in international air travel.

Now the fact that Qantas made a Profit Before Tax of $975 million in the 2014/15 Financial Year is clear evidence that Joyce has achieved Enterprise Alignment. The task that has already successfully begun is to develop greater Organisational Alignment to provide the internal environment in which change can be achieved without the sort of industrial conflict that led to the grounding of Qantas in October 2011.

An agreement between Qantas and the long-haul pilots union has now been struck which is a perfect illustration of Organisational Alignment at its most productive.

Everyone understands where the organisation is now

This is what Qantas pilot and president of the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA) – Nathan Safe had to say about the negotiations over the new agreement. “These changes (to the then current agreement) have been based around building a viable business case for the type of ultra long-range flying capable of being performed by the 787. We have been pleased with the quality and tone of the negotiations …….. and we note the unprecedented level of transparency and sharing of commercially relevant information”. Note the word “unprecedented”. Sharing commercially relevant information was not a hallmark of the previous CEO, Geoff Dixon.

Everyone understands the destination and the journey

Much of the agreement between Qantas and the AIPA remains under wraps because to make it public would have given too much away to Qantas’ competitors. However, with Alan Joyce’s background in scheduling and network planning, one can rest assured that the destination and the journey have been clearly defined and shared with the pilots.

Everyone understands their role in getting there

Building the commercial case for buying and operating the B787 was not solely dependent on securing the cooperation and support of AIPA members. Everyone from baggage handlers and cabin crew to aircraft maintenance engineers have bought into the plan by signing new agreements on the terms and conditions of their employment. Having suffered all the pain of recent years, everyone in Qantas International understands the significance of the B787-9 purchase in placing Qantas on the offensive once again and no one wants to jeopardise its success and the beneficial impact that that would have on job security and career opportunities.

In my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” I refrained from claiming that any aspect of implementation was ‘the most critical’.

I’ve changed my mind.

Without alignment of the enterprise with its external environment and of the employees within the enterprise, no organisation of any shape, size or form can fulfil its potential. So before you rush off to sign up to some program on employee engagement, effective communication, change management or leadership, you need to ask yourself a simple question. Is our organisation aligned? And if it ain’t, no amount of training in the aforementioned skills will make an iota of difference. It’s doomed to failure.


Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.      


Maya Angelou – Employee Engagement – the role of communication

April 23, 2015

communicationThe realisation that the first anniversary of Maya Angelou’s death is fast approaching reminded me of one of her best known quotes.

“People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel”.

As much as I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment expressed in the last line, I have difficulty accepting the rationale upon which this conclusion is based.  How people feel about their family, friends, supervisor or the organisation for which they work, is heavily influenced by what people say and even more so by what people do – or don’t do.  Your emotional state is not an independent variable, it’s an outcome, conditioned by many factors.

One of the more disturbing features of work life in the 21st century is the generally low level of employee engagement.  The latest Gallup research for 2014 has the overall percentage of “Engaged” employees at 31.5%.  Those “Not Engaged” totalled 51% with the remaining 17.5% “Actively Disengaged”.

Now engagement, like one’s emotional state, is not an independent variable.  It is the outcome of clear goals and objectives and the strategies to achieve them; of organisational alignment; of an empathetic attitude to the management of change; of leadership at all levels of the organisation and the fostering of teams and teamwork.  And the catalyst for making all this happen is communication at an enterprise and personal level.

Many years ago, I worked for a multi-national chemical company and the new CEO instituted a quarterly informal gathering called Face-to-Face where he and his fellow directors took impromptu questions from the staff on a whole variety of topics on the current and future well being of the company and its staff.  As an alternative to raising questions from the floor, one could write them down beforehand and give them to the company PR manager.  I penned about six questions and four were addressed by the CEO at the meeting before time ran out.  So imagine my surprise when on the following day, I was told by the CEO’s PA that he intended to come down from his lofty perch on the top floor and answer my remaining questions.  Sitting on a borrowed typist’s chair, this is what he did and at the end of each response, he asked me whether he had fully answered the question I had raised.  I don’t remember my questions nor the detail of his responses but I do remember him asking me if I was satisfied with his answer.  I will never forget his act in coming to see me.  It made a deep impression and certainly raised my spirits and made me more optimistic about my own and the company’s future.  Unfortunately, his action did not serve as an example to my more immediate superiors and so, disenchanted by the lack of a clear strategy and the absence of those other factors mentioned in the previous paragraph, I resigned 18 months later.

There is no doubt in my mind that what managers do is the key determinant of how their staff feel.  Let me give you three further examples.  A Nursing Unit Manager or NUM at a public hospital, much loved and respected by her staff, makes a point of helping our with bed making and other menial tasks if her staff are under time pressures.  The head of the NSW ambulance service, a trained paramedic, rosters himself on at least one ambulance shift a month to take the pulse of what it’s like on the frontline of the service he’s responsible for.  Rob Fyfe, former CEO of Air New Zealand used to act as an impromptu steward when flying on an Air New Zealand flight and invited Air New Zealanders with varying degrees of seniority to spend a day with him to observe the work of the CEO firsthand.  This is communication at its most powerful.  These people know how their actions impact on the morale of their staff.  Nevertheless, they are also aware that the “feel good” factor may be a transitory one if not complemented and supported by people centred planning and those key execution factors.

Maybe Maya Angelou’s quote should be modified to read as follows:

“People will remember what you said.
People will remember what you did.
And people will never forget how you made them feel”.

What’s better – meeting expectations or exceeding them?

November 25, 2014


I guess the PC response to the above question is the latter but the recent completion of another customer feedback survey provides further confirmation that this is not the case.untitled

The client, in this instance, was a manufacturer and as is usual in these surveys, we asked their customers to rate the importance to them of “Order lead-time” and “Delivery-on-time”. In order to ensure consistency of interpretation, a sentence of definition was read out to each respondent after each attribute had been tabled.

The one for “Order lead-time” read as follows:

“How important to you is the time that elapses between order placement and order delivery?”

and the one for “Delivery-on-time” –

“How important is it that the products ordered arrive at the time you were given to expect?”

Out of the 15 supplier attributes measured, “Delivery-on-time” was in third position in the hierarchy with Order lead-time in ninth place. Of course, what constitutes “Delivery-on-time” will vary from industry to industry and market to market. At one end of the spectrum, we have auto industry production lines where delivery-on-time is measured in minutes to custom made furniture or ship building where delivery within the month forecasted would meet the client’s expectations.

As consumers, we constantly wrestle with these two variables. Would we prefer the dry cleaners to tell us that an item for cleaning will be ready next day at 9.00am – and it is – or promise us an hour’s turnaround time – and we sit in the shop for 15 minutes while the item is finished off? Would we prefer a 10.00am appointment with our GP – and we barely have time to select a magazine before we are called – or one at 8.30am the same day when our doctor is running 30 minutes late? Would we welcome the plumber who turned up a day earlier than agreed?

Yet despite the evidence to the contrary, my experience is that the majority of management teams place greater emphasis on reducing lead-times with the inevitable result that delivery sometimes meets the customer’s expectations and sometimes not. “If I know that the order turnaround time is two weeks, I can plan around that. I would rather be told Friday am and the supplier meets that expectation than promised Tuesday and the supplier delivers a day late”.

Indeed for many customers and clients delivering before the expected time is just as bad as delivering after. Take a transport company that delivers containers from the wharf. Delivering in the morning instead of the afternoon as promised could be a real headache for the customer if they have hired labour to unload it – or a supplier delivering a dangerous chemical earlier than expected and thereby exceeding the customer’s dangerous chemical storage licence.

The one downside about meeting expectations is the phenomenon of “expectation creep”. We see this consistently with organisations that have undertaken a series of customer feedback surveys with us. If our client establishes a reputation for delivering-on-time then even though the incidence of late deliveries represents an ever smaller percentage of the total, the performance rating for this particular attribute might nevertheless stay static at best and at worst even decline. Based on past performance, customer expectations have risen and whilst our client’s performance has also improved, a gap starts to appear between expectation and the customers’ perception of reality. Expectation creep is also driven by the fact that the customer’s rating is based on a comparison between the supplier’s current and past performance rather than that between the supplier and one of its competitors.

I always cringe when I read a Mission statement that includes the platitude of “exceeding our customers’ expectations”. That’s not what customers want. They want their suppliers, whoever they may be, to consistently meet their expectations. As for “under promise and over deliver” just shorten that to “promise and deliver – consistently”.


What leaders do (and non-leaders don’t)

May 1, 2014

In 1984, the late Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis published his second book “Further up the organisation”. The sub-title read – “how groups of people working together for a common purpose ought to conduct themselves for fun and profit”. Among the many words of wisdom – and common sense – was a table in which he contrasted leaders and non-leaders on 50 separate points of behaviour. He ended his list by adding that the reader “now knows more about leaders and leadership than all the combined graduate business schools in America.”

I agree with him.

There is no room here to reproduce the complete list but I’ve selected just 10 which can be practiced by anyone who manages others at whatever level in whatever organisation.

tableI’m going to pick just one from above – “does dog-work when necessary”.dog_working

Heard about a NUM (Nursing Unit Manager) recently. She’s old school – she refers to her nurses as “my girls” and helps out with the bed making if they are short staffed.

Then there’s Ray Creen, head of the NSW Ambulance Service. A paramedic himself, he still rosters himself on one shift a month. “Creen is well aware his staff respect him. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts on their uniform and goes out on their jobs. He’s not only practising the profession he loves, he’s nurturing the roots of his authority” wrote journalist Mark Dapin. The NSW ambos are so impressed they have built a Facebook page around him – Ray Creen – Ambo Legend. Morale in the service has risen to unheard of heights since he took the reins in March of last year.

I’ll finish with Rob Fyfe, legendary CEO of Air New Zealand from 2005 to 2012. Fyfe’s unshakable belief was that people were more important than planes. “By understanding our customers better, …. we could win by attracting more customers to fly (Air New Zealand) and ensure we had fuller aircraft rather than trying to win through having a lower cost base, or some other miraculous way (of increasing) our revenue”. A highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose …. will almost always outperform an opposition focused primarily on the bottom line, on financial ratios and technical superiority”. During Fyfe’s tenure, he practiced as a flight attendant and as a baggage handler. As a graduate engineer, he was not averse to doing a night shift at the airline’s maintenance hanger at Nelson, nor did he shirk responsibility for answering personally any complaint emailed directly to him.

Has his style of leadership worked? You betcha – Air Transport World voted Air New Zealand “Airline of the Year” in 2012; its profit last year was $182 million and climbing; 56,000 people applied for jobs last year at what is New Zealand’s most admired company.

What’s the real lesson from these examples? It’s that when you behave towards your staff as you would like your staff to behave towards you and you set the example by MBWA and a willingness to do “dog work”, you will tap into the constants of human nature that cut across gender, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries and job roles and status. As Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson would say – how hard can it be ….?

Empowering others – to get things done!

June 18, 2013

“Execution – getting the task done, making it happen – is the most unappreciated skill of an effective business leader”.  So wrote Lou Gerstner, the architect of IBM’s 1990’s turnaround, in his book – “Who Says Elephants Can’t DanceImplementation Is All About Implications - The Wagon Wheel Way?.  It’s also the most important stage of any business strategy.  Yet, in my opinion, the standard of execution is in decline.  Great execution is the exception, not the rule.

Despite the research; despite the training; despite the books and DVD’s on leadership and teamwork, there are forces at work in our present day environment that impede the translation of theory into practice.

The Challenges of Change

At the root of the problem is the accelerating pace of change.  The impact of change on the quality of execution manifests itself in many different ways but the key ones are as follows:

■          Business strategies have shorter use-by dates and even during their period of currency require constant adaptation.  The consequence of this is that timetables for  implementation have become tighter

■          The impact of globalisation on many businesses is profound – exchange rates, labour rates, new technology, new competitors and advances in IT.  In our inter-connected   world, the impact of such changes is far more immediate

■          The need to adapt and possibly make fundamental changes to strategy often involves significant and on-going financial investment that many organisations in both the public and private sector struggle to meet

■          The need to compete in the face of global and intensifying competition has led to a relentless emphasis on cost containment, efficiency and productivity

■          Restructurings, down-sizings, out-sourcings, mergers, acquisitions, take-overs and alliances have become the norm

■          Many developed economies are undergoing fundamental adjustment as the   manufacturing and agricultural sectors decline and the service sector grows

■          As a consequence of all the above, security of employment has decreased with a corresponding increase in the mobility of labour both within and between employers

It’s the last mentioned consequence, employment security, that has had a major impact on the quality of execution.  As Charles Darwin pointed out, “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  Hence in the western world, Baby-Boomers have experienced the most difficulty in coming to terms with the new workplace norms, followed by Generation X.

Generation Y – the Preeminent Adaptors

Generation Y are the most successful adapters because their workplace environment has always been thus.  So how has Gen Y adapted?

■          Gen Y has been conditioned to accept that during the course of their working lives, they will experience two or three changes of career and several employers.  The days  of working one’s way up the corporate ladder with the same employer have gone forever.  Lifetime job security is a thing of the past.  I’m not suggesting that Gen Y flit between one employer and another with no trace of trepidation but their attitude to changing jobs, whether by choice or necessity, is very different from that of the Baby-boomers.

■          Gen Y have a different attitude towards their employer.  Unlike Baby-Boomers and to a lesser extent Gen X, Gen Y do not have any great sense of loyalty to their employer  as they sense that their employer has little loyalty towards them.

■          Gen Y accept pressure and time constraints to accomplish tasks more readily than their elders.  Their whole lives are lived at a greater intensity.

■          Lack of job security, the pressure to perform and constant change leads Gen Y to adopt a more self-interested attitude.  Their I-World runs deeper that iPhones and iPads.

Add to the mix better “technical” skills and an ability to understand and exploit Information Technology, the most adaptable of Gen Y are confident, assertive and believe in controlling their own destiny rather than leaving it in the hands of their current employer to dictate.  At the same time, it is more than likely that Gen Y couples both work, have to service a substantial mortgage, repay a hefty HECS bill, pay for child-care but still want to enjoy a life outside that of work.  And it’s a composite of all these factors that leads the brightest of Gen Y (and Gen X) to believe that the quicker they can climb the corporate ladder, their employability will grow and hence the lack of job security becomes less of an issue.  Furthermore, they see their career success factors as technical competence coupled with strong self-management skills.  Empowering others – to get things done comes a distant third.  At the same time, their managers and supervisors from a different generation often feel threatened by their technically competent and confident reports and hence try to suppress them by controlling rather than empowering them.

The Case for Empowerment

In my work on execution, I have identified 36 reasons why things don’t happen as the planners intended and of that number, more than half – 19 to be precise – relate to failures to empower employees.  Moreover, these failures start at the planning stage so the organisation’s ability to execute is compromised right from the outset.

When one takes into account the pace of change and the constant need to adapt to an environment over which one has no control, it’s evident that just making the right strategic choices is a test of an organisation’s technical competence.  Yet even if the right choices are made and the implications of those choices correctly determined, execution will still suffer if the organisation lacks the empowerment skills to get employees at all levels behind the strategy.  It’s sometimes forgotten that whilst strategies are formulated from above, they are executed from below.

Empowering others – to get things done takes time and commitment.  It begins at the planning stage.  How many planners seek consensus on the current reality facing their organisation and summarise the rationale behind the new strategy?  How many planners make a conscious decision to separate “this is what we are going to do” from “this is how we are going to do it” and then involve those charged with the plan’s execution in the latter deliberations?  How many planners take the time to establish an overall goal to which everyone in the organisation can relate?  These are just three issues that require addressing at the planning stage before execution starts!  And when it comes to execution, 13 out of the 14 barriers relate to aspects of empowerment – of others – to get things done.

The conclusion might be drawn that given the present day environment in which we work and the manner in which Gen Y in particular have adapted to it that the cost in terms of time and commitment to empower others outweighs the benefits to organisational performance.  I’m convinced that this is not so.

The basis of great execution is organisational alignment  – the alignment of the organisation’s strategies to the external environment and the alignment of the staff within it.  Thus alignment begins at the planning stage.  This stage might take longer than it would do otherwise but an involved and empowered workforce will do a far better job of bringing plans to reality.  Empowerment leads to greater employee engagement and with engagement comes greater flexibility, discretionary effort and a greater awareness of the need to adapt the strategy to a frequently changing environment.  Not only do staff learn the value of empowering others but job satisfaction grows with a consequent reduction in staff turnover – which brings me to another characteristic of Gen Y.

Gen Y’s believe that managers have to earn their respect; it is not something that their superiors are automatically entitled to.  Gen Y’s have greater expectations of their work life and are less tolerant of employers who fail to measure up – and who can blame them?


The Qantas-Emirates Partnership – constructing the Wagon Wheel

April 30, 2013

On March 31st, Qantas flight QF1 departed for London Heathrow, not via Singapore, its traditional hub, but via Dubai, home to Emirates, the world’s biggest international airline.

The partnership between the two airlines had become a reality.  Implementation Is All About Implications - The Wagon Wheel Way

You might be wondering about the connection between one of the most ancient and slowest forms of travel and the prodigious size, range and speed of the Airbus A380, the flagship of the two airlines.  If you are read on…….

The Wagon Wheel Way™

The Wagon Wheel Way™ is the world’s first Enterprise Operating System (WWWEOS) that maps the complete operational process from a) planning and b) execution to c) monitoring, measuring, adapting and d) revising.  The EOS uses the analogy of a wagon wheel where planning is likened to the wagon wheel’s construction; execution to the wagon wheel’s operation; monitoring, measuring, adapting to wagon wheel maintenance and lastly, revising to reconstructing the wheel.  And just in case you are thinking – what about communication – that’s the grease on the axle that keeps the wagon wheel rolling with the minimum of resistance – the good oil.

The WWWEOS was developed to demonstrate that the genesis of great execution begins the moment the planners sit down to plan.  What most planners ignore is that planning has a human dimension.  Integrated within the WWWEOS is a list of 36 barriers to execution.  In addition to each of these barriers being allocated to one of the four stages of the operational process, they are also divided into barriers of a “technical nature” and those that relate to  shortcomings of management in managing staff.  Whilst it should not come as a surprise to learn that 13 out of the 14 barriers relating to execution are people management issues, it may surprise that 4 out of the 13 barriers relating to planning also involve people.  Given that each barrier is placed in a specific sequence, it is a sobering thought that the first people related barrier is Barrier No.2 and so it follows that a failure to address this barrier will have an adverse impact on the subsequent quality of the execution.  The overall breakdown, incidentally, is 17 technical barriers and 19 people ones.  Thus technical and people management skills are equally important to the execution of the plan.

A wagon wheel was chosen as the model for the EOS, primarily because the construction of a wagon wheel mirrors the way in which plans should be developed.  The process is applicable to any kind of plan but really comes into its own when major and far reaching strategic plans are involved.  And make no mistake, the Qantas-Emirates alliance is BIG.  Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas refers to the partnership as “one of the most strategic initiatives that we will ever do” and his opposite number at Emirates, Tim Clark, summed up the deal in one word – “seismic”.

Strategic planning – what we are going to do

Developing a strategic business plan involves three stages.  The first stage is to decide what you are going to do and the second is to decide how you are going to do it.  Most organisations spend too little time working on the second stage.  The third stage is an initial action plan based on “how we are going to do it” not on the first stage – “what we are going to do”.  “What we are going to do” is akin to constructing the hub of the wagon wheel.  No matter what specific processes or tools are used, the completed hub should consist of five components – a) the markets (customers) to be served, b) the products/services to be provided, c) the activities required to provide these products and services, d) the competitive strategy, and e) the competitive advantage – what is it that you do – currently or potentially – that is both different and better than your direct competitors.  From what I read, Qantas and Emirates have developed this – the first stage – to a high degree and if the execution of the current strategy meets both partners’ expectations, I think you will see the partnership extended to cover the trans-Pacific theatre as well.  It’s worth noting that Emirates already operates trans Atlantic services and has recently added an additional service from Milan to New York.

Strategic planning – how we are going to do it

Although it would have been driven by necessity, one of the most impressive features of the alliance so far has been the thoroughness with which the second stage has been tackled.  On the WWWEOS, after the hub has been built the spokes are inserted before the wooden wheel rim is attached to the spokes.  The spokes are the feature of the wagon wheel that makes it so appropriate as a planning analogy.  They both separate the second stage – “how we are going to do it” from the first but at the same time, the spokes demonstrate the connection between them.  The question that Qantas and Emirates management had to ask themselves countless times was – what is the impact of what we are going to do on every single function in each of the two airlines.  Joyce refers to “hundreds and hundreds of issues that had to be addressed”.  Within Qantas, ten workgroups were established to work on the commercial aspects of the alliance; the operational issues in moving the eastbound Qantas hub from Singapore to Dubai; flight operations; catering, baggage handling and cleaning services contracts, check-in processes and procedures, and crew hotels.  As part of the commercial aspects of the alliance, the two frequent flier programs had to be merged; fares, baggage allowances and credit terms aligned; approaches to corporate customers coordinated and complementary PR and media programs sorted.  On the IT side 22 different projects were tackled to bring the two airlines’ IT systems into sync with one another.  Action plans by the score will have been drawn up and activated as the roll-out of the partnership commences.

The final step in the construction of the wagon wheel is placing the metal band around the rim of the wheel.  The band represents the two key resources of any organisation – people and money and I think it’s fair to say that the strategic issues that have confronted Qantas on its eastbound international routes have been exacerbated by the series of industrial disputes between management and unions representing flight crews, cabin crews, engineers and baggage handlers.  This has resulted in low morale and a consequent drop off in customer service in all its various forms.  The Qantas brand has suffered as a result.

The human factor in planning

I am not sufficiently close to the action to be able to comment on these, currently, resolved disputes but one of the contributing factors has been poor communication by Qantas management with its employees.  Communication is the Central Nervous System of any organisation and if it’s damaged paralysis is the result.  Of course, I’m talking about communication between people not computers and as mentioned beforehand, four out of the 13 barriers to execution at the planning stage are people related.  Barrier No.2 flags the necessity for explaining to staff the rationale behind the planned strategy.  Everyone impacted by the new strategy and the subsequent changes needs to appreciate and understand the thought process behind it.  Not everyone will be won over but 90 – 95% will be, but if no convincing explanation is given, this percentage will drop dramatically with a consequent impact on execution.

Barrier No.5 refers to the necessity to involve those charged with the plan’s execution at the planning stage – particularly Stage 2 – how we are going to do it.  Because of the range and complexity of the issues to be resolved, it would appear that Qantas and Emirates have called on the specific expertise of many staff at all levels of management.

Barrier No.9 highlights the potential need to make changes to the organisational structure and such changes would appear to be fundamental to making the partnership work.  My colleague, Dr Andrew Humphries of SCCI, an acknowledged expert in strategic alliances and what makes them work, would recommend that both Qantas and Emirates appoint Partnership Relationship Managers to oversee both the execution and on-going operation of the alliance.

Finally Barrier No.13 draws attention to one of the most common management failings that, if left unresolved, will guarantee that the plan will never live up to the expectations of the planners.  In a great many cases, the work load associated with the new strategy is simply added to that associated with the current one and in these circumstances with not enough hours in the day, the focus stays on the urgent jobs rather than the important ones.  I’ve no doubt that much midnight oil has been burnt but the stakes – for Qantas particularly – are so high that it seems unlikely that this barrier would present too much of an obstacle.  The necessary resources would simply have been made available.

In summary, the wagon wheel has been constructed and the roll out has begun.  In the WWWEOS model, the emphasis on planning gives way to an emphasis on execution.  The five key requirements for great execution are a) organisational alignment, b) management of change, c) leadership at all levels, d) teams and teamwork and e) employee engagement – in that order.  In terms of customer service Emirates set a high standard and it’s imperative to the success of the partnership that Qantas employees do likewise.  Jan Carlzon, the former CEO of Scandinavian Airline Systems (SAS) in his book “Moments of Truth” explained the origin of the title as follows.  “Last year, each of our 10 million customers came into contact with approximately five SAS employees, and this contact lasted an average of 15 seconds each time.  Thus SAS is “created” 50 million times per year, 15 seconds at a time.  These 50 million “moments of truth” are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will succeed or fail as a company.”

Employee engagement is usually defined as the willingness of employees to undertake “greater discretionary effort”.  The endless opportunities that employees have to go beyond the call of duty to serve the passengers’ needs.  It’s what happens when staff feel good about the organisation they work for.  The starting point is a good plan and good planning and the Qantas – Emirates partnership seems to exemplify that.  So the wagon wheel has been built; it remains to be seen how effectively it operates.

The complete Wagon Wheel Way Enterprise Operating System is explained in my book  “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen.  The book is available in hard or soft copy from Amazon and in hard copy from my web site  You can download the first chapter free from my web site and see the reviews at


Communication – the good oil

April 15, 2013

Implementation Plan | Implementation Management | Strategy Implementation | Implementation Process

I’ve watched two documentaries on SBS recently  – the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Sandy – the Perfect Storm.  Ironically, in one case there was too much water whilst in the other, there wasn’t enough.  But what struck me once again are the communication skills of Americans.  This wasn’t Barack Obama or Martin Luther King or JFK speaking, these were ordinary Americans relating their experiences of these natural disasters – helped in one case by the actions of man.  What makes the average  American so eloquent compared to his or her Australian counterpart?  If you know why, I’d love to hear from you.

Last month in Victoria, we saw the resignation of Ted Baillieu who, even before the publication of the Nutt/Weston tapes and the resignation of Geoff Shaw, was languishing in the polls due, in part, to his inability to communicate with the electorate.  I’m not suggesting that what you say is more important than what you do but my experience is that employees complain more about the lack of communication from management than any other single factor.  This is not, perhaps, surprising as a manager’s ability to communicate is probably his or her most important asset.  In my book – “Execution to Die For” – I describe “Communication” as the Central Nervous System of any organisation.  Damage it and paralysis is the result.

Communication – the Nine Deadly Sins

Such is the overarching significance of Communication in The Wagon Wheel Way™ Enterprise Operating System, it does not feature directly in the Wheel’s construction (planning), operation (implementation) or maintenance (monitoring, measuring & adapting).  Instead it is depicted as the grease on the axle that allows the Wagon Wheel to roll with the minimum of resistance – hence Communication – the good oil.  Given that everyone recognises the significance of Communication, the question has to be raised as to why many organisations do it so poorly.  Here are the most common reasons.

a)     Management believes that the Plan will meet with resistance so the fewer people that know about it the better

b)     Communication takes up time – lots of it, particularly if you want to communicate effectively

c)      Senior management sees itself as the “thinkers” – the rest are the “doers”.  Why involve the “doers” in the “thinkers” role?

d)      The Planners limit their thinking to – “this is what we are going to do”.  They do not consider the implications of the Plan on each of the functions in the organisation, neither do they consider whether the Plan is practical and can be     adequately resourced

e)      Management withholds information on the basis of the “need to know”

f)      Management withholds information because information is power

g)     Management is afraid to initiate communication because this will invite questions to which management does not have an answer

h)     Management is fearful that the bulk of the contribution from staff will be negative so inviting communication is to invite criticism

i)      Management do not appreciate the contribution that the staff at the front line of the organisation can make, particularly to the second phase of planning – “how we are going to do it”.

I can guarantee that no one reading the above will be innocent of one or more of these communication crimes and everyone will have experienced the frustrations, anger and anxiety that such omissions in communication cause – whether deliberate or otherwise.


The above list of Communication offenses is taken directly from Section 2.6 of “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen.  This Section also discusses the two basic types of communication, what to communicate about and how some forms of communication are far more effective than others – if you want to achieve “execution to die for”.  The book is available in hard or soft copy from Amazon and in hard copy from my web site

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