Do you have a corporate goal?

July 18, 2014

leading people I’m not talking about some corporate vision; in the first instance, I’m talking about a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a Result and Time-related. But a corporate goal should be much more than that.

I recall a Director of a company that I worked for telling the assembled members of a regional office that the company’s goal was to make an overall 10% return on assets employed within three years. Were the staff energised by this revelation? Did they even comprehend what the Director was on about? And if, by some minor miracle, the answer to both these questions was “yes”, would they have understood their role in the goal’s achievement?

To be effective – and far more effective than the vast majority of corporate visions – the corporate goal, in addition to being SMART, needs to display the following characteristics.

a)         It should be understandable to everyone with the minimum of explanation

b)         Everyone should have a role to play in its achievement

c)         It should act as the wellspring of all subsidiary objectives and strategies

d)         It should align the whole organisation behind its achievement

e)         It should promote teamwork and employee empowerment

f)          It should be at the top of the hierarchy of dependency

As Rob Fyfe, ex CEO of Air New Zealand put it – ” 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”.

Does the above statement by Rob Fyfe mean that Air New Zealand doesn’t focus on profitability and other financial ratios? Of course not! But it’s not its primary focus and management believes that if Air New Zealand becomes the airline of choice on the routes that it flies, it will lead to higher load factors, less discounting, lower variable costs and ultimately higher profits.

It’s not easy to identify a corporate goal that is both SMART and meets those six additional criteria. But my Customer Feedback Surveys can provide one. These surveys not only provide an overall customer satisfaction index, they also provide that data by individual client and in comparison with my client’s direct competitors. What’s more, they measure the performance of every function within my client’s organisation. High satisfaction levels are not the responsibility of the few, they should involve every employee in your organisation up to and including the CEO. If you do not have a direct or indirect role to play in customer satisfaction, you have to ask yourself what you are doing there. Moreover, high satisfaction levels can only be achieved by “a highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose.”

My conclusion is that if you look after your customers, the profit will look after itself.

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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 ….?


Animal Migrations – Ultimate Organisational Alignment?

March 19, 2014

Geese

You must be singularly immune to the blandishments of consultants and their training programs if you are unfamiliar with the analogy of migrating geese and the principles of teamwork.  The message is appealing – divide your employees up into small groups, adopt the characteristics of skeins of geese and the resultant team will be much more productive with members enjoying far higher levels of job satisfaction and having – dare I say it – more fun.

So is your organisation an exemplar of teamwork or have you found the theory hard to translate into practice?  If the latter, I know why.

In my Wagon Wheel Enterprise Operating Platform, team work is in fourth place on the list of key implementation factors and these are preceded by the first stage in the platform – Planning – deciding what it is you want to achieve and then working out how you are going to achieve it.  The fundamental prerequisite to great execution is Organisational Alignment.

The irony is that animal migrations, whether of wildebeest, birds or butterflies are excellent examples of organisational alignment but trainers and consultants have decided that there is far more appeal in the linkage between geese on the wing and team work than there is between butterflies and organisational alignment.  The former stirs the emotions; the latter merely appeals to the rational.

Dingle, an evolutionary biologist, identified five characteristics that distinguish migration from other forms of mass movement.

■          Persistence

■          Linearity

■          Undistractibility

■          Special start and stop behaviours

■          Stored energy

His hypothesis was that these features are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in all animal migrations.  They are also present in successful organisations.

Persistence

Take bar headed geese for example.  Every year, these geese migrate from lowland India to breed on the Tibetan plateau.  To achieve this, they cross the Himalayas, reaching an altitude of 21,000ft for certain with unconfirmed reports that they have been observed above Everest (29,029ft).  Why fly across the Himalayas when they could outflank them?  It’s hereditary behaviour – it’s hard wired into them.  What we might call organisational culture.

Linearity

Migrating animals travel with a purpose.  They don’t meander around.  They confront obstacles and overcome them.  Their focus is on the larger purpose – the organisational goal.

Undistractibility

Migratory animals act in unison – they are all focused on the journey.  They act as one.  They are aligned with one another.  They don’t go off and do their own thing just because it suits them.

Special start & stop behaviours

Whilst animal migrations are instinctive, they are also carefully planned.  The animals gather in the same place, they depart at the same time and they agree on the destination so all know when they have arrived.

Stored energy

If you are a bar headed goose then you will eat voraciously before the flight.  But not only do you store energy, you have developed the physiology and strategies to conserve it.  You have the species’ highest ratio of wing area to weight to maximise lift at high altitudes.  You have a preference for flying to the highest altitudes at night since the air is denser at low temperatures and this helps lift.  You use thermals to gain altitude and conserve energy.  On the physiology front, you are capable of extracting more oxygen from the oxygen depleted air found at high altitudes and using it more efficiently than your lowland cousins.  In short you have developed and acquired the resources necessary to turn your planned migration into reality.

To summarise, therefore, every goose appreciates where they are before the migration; every goose knows the destination and understands the strategies required to get there and, lastly, every goose plays its part in achieving the goal.

Now if you substitute “organisation” for “goose”, you’ve pretty much defined what is meant by organisational alignment.

And the point is this.

90% of the reasons for the success of the migration occur before the geese take to the air.  The way they fly in their “V” formations is the final stage of execution that maximises the chances of all of them reaching the Tibetan plateau.

And so it is with organisations.  Without comprehensive and involving planning; without goals and objectives; without a realistic plan of action; without organisational alignment; without empathetic management of change; without leadership at all levels of your organisation, the empowerment of your employees through the development of teams and teamwork will simply not happen.

Instead, inspired by the grace of geese on the wing and won over by a seductive promise of organisational utopia, your employees will take flight prematurely, struggle to gain altitude, fly in ever decreasing circles, become ever more  frustrated and ultimately touchdown in much the same location they departed from.  They will then take on the characteristics of another bird – a melee of seagulls squabbling over the remains of your fish and chips.


Holistic – weasel word or word of wisdom?

January 17, 2014

Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

I was reading an article recently about Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull’s Formula 1 team and one of the primary reasons for Sebastian Vettel’s string of four consecutive world driver’s Championships.  The article began with the following sentence.  “Holistic is a weasel word beloved of management consultants and other such flim-flam merchants, but when it sallies from one man’s mouth (Adrian Newey), you know what he means.”

Indeed, whilst “holistic” might not be as popular a weasel word as “world’s best practice”, “engagement” or “emotional intelligence”, it does make an appearance in Don Watson’s “Dictionary of Weasel Words” where one of his definitions of “holistic” is “taking account of more than one part.  Not partial or fragmentary, thereby yielding superior conclusions.”

However what Newey means by holistic is the capacity to understand how every aspect of a Formula 1 car’s components interact with every other part so that the car’s overall performance is superior to that of its competitors.  After graduating in 1980 with a degree in aerodynamics from Southampton University in the UK, Newey worked his way up from years as a race engineer to senior designer at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull.  During this period, the design offices at F1 teams have become dramatically larger with dozens of engineers and aerodynamicists working in semi-autonomous groups, each trying to optimise the performance of their particular speciality.  Newey is in a class of his own in his ability to both understand the detail and how each design component will impact on the car’s overall performance.  In contrast, with some of Newey’s competitors, “graduates arrive in design offices without hands-on experience and go straight to the coalface, joining those sub-groups working on individual sections of the car, chiselling away at abstract targets to yield a certain percentage improvement in downforce … and the result is a disjointed overall design that looks as if its constituent elements have been picked and assembled at random.”

But it’s not just the application of holistic thinking to the technical side of the job.  Certainly, like Newey, you need to understand and then orchestrate the integration of every technical function within an organisation so the performance of the whole is optimised.  But it’s one thing to plan; quite another to implement.  You don’t achieve anything if your plans, however brilliant, remain on the drawing board.  Thus, taking a holistic approach requires the manager to appreciate the linkage between managing the technical and managing the people who will bring the plan to reality.

Newey puts it this way:  “When I started at Red Bull, I treated the job as mainly a design based challenge.  But there were two main problems that had nothing directly to do with design.  The first was that this was a team of low morale because there had been a lot of hiring and firing of key personnel with different owners through the years.  The second was a strange type of arrogance – a refusal to acknowledge how mediocre their performance was.”

“It took quite a while for Christian (Horner – Team Manager at Red Bull) and I to create the cultural change that we needed to get away from the ‘we’re happy to finish seventh mentality’.  I wasn’t a believer in setting out that we’re going to win the championship next year.  But I did want to say: ‘This is how we’ll try to go about things.  Let’s see where it gets us – hopefully, further up the grid than we are now.'”

“These days there’s a huge energy through the place.  The factory and the race team are incredibly hard working …….  It’s very rewarding that many of the people who were there from the very early days of Red Bull are still there today.  They are performing at such a high level now.  They’ve been able to really re-invent themselves, and I admire them for that”.

So to summarise what it means to take a holistic approach to management, here are the key points:

■          Think and act holistically – make it your responsibility to achieve an understanding of the “technical” aspects of what everyone does who works for you.

■          If it’s an area that you are not familiar with, sit with the people who are and ask questions – spend time with accounts, your IT team, your customer service people.  Go out with your reps, spend a day in the labs, get behind the customer service desk.  Observe and analyse – but remember it’s your role to take the individual pieces of the jigsaw and connect them to form the big picture.

■          Managing holistically means managing the technical component of the job and managing people.

■          At the risk of using another weasel word, your job is to empower the people who work for you.

■          How to do that?

●          Work with them to set collective goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a Result – not an activity and Time related.

●          Be visible and available – practice management by wandering around

●          Don’t micro-manage – your role is to set objectives and provide the support and resources for others to accomplish them

●          Encourage innovative thinking – “how could your job be made more effective – how can we collectively improve”?

●          Provide feedback on the big picture – people want to be “in” on things

●          Show appreciation for a job well done.  Everyone at Red Bull, from the cleaners to Adrian Newey received the same bonus of $10,000 for their part in winning the team’s fourth Constructor’s championship.

The sad reality is that our world does not encourage holistic management of the style that Newey epitomises.  Conversely, the rewards for those that do practice it have never been greater.

Graham Haines


Do you have an operating platform?

November 19, 2013

I’m told that the number of apps for SMART phones now exceeds a million; quite a contrast between that statistic and the handful of platforms and operating systems required to support them.Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

Whilst not showing quite the virility of the mobile apps family, the market for training courses and consulting programs continues to escalate to the extent that no matter what your need, there is a product tailor-made to “fix” the problem.  The trouble is that without an operating platform on which to run this type of applications software, there is a tendency towards treating the symptoms rather than the causes.  Take, for example, a program on teams and teamwork.  It’s a fair bet that the program will encompass team members’ roles, dealing with conflict, active listening, emotional intelligence, communication, team leadership and many other facets of what we instinctively recognise as team attributes.  Games to foster and illustrate teamwork are played and sporting exemplars are tabled.  The program might culminate in an address given by a well-known personality who headed a celebrated team.

Fired with enthusiasm and keen to practice what they have been taught, the attendees return to their everyday work environment.  After a few short weeks, the course is but a pleasant memory and the reality sets in.  The work environment is simply not conducive to the practice of teamwork.

Why is this scenario played out so often?

The short answer is that teams and teamwork, or leadership, or employee engagement or customer service are all dependent variables.  And if you trace their dependency back to their origins, they all end up at Planning.  If you want to get maximum value out of your training budget; indeed, if you want your organisation to be successful – however that is measured – it’s essential that you have an operating platform that sets out the hierarchy of dependency.  That way you know what parameters have to be satisfied in order to extract the maximum value from any “applications software” program and for your organisation to achieve success.

The operating platform is made up of four components, the first of which is independent but with the second dependent on the first and the third dependent on the first and second and the fourth dependent on the three that come before.  The platform has to be constructed in a specific sequence – you can’t build Component 2 until Component 1 is complete.

The four components are as follows:

■          Planning

■          Implementing

■          Monitoring, Measuring, Adapting

■          Revising

They represent an operational cycle – when “revising” is necessary, it’s back to “planning” again.

Within each Component, there is also a hierarchy of dependency at work.  Take “implementing” as an example.  The sequence is thus:

■          Implementing

●          Organisational Alignment

●          Management of Change

●          Leadership

●          Teams and Teamwork

●          Employee Engagement

This component of the operating platform works like this.  Organisational Alignment  – everyone understands where the organisation is now – everyone understands the destination and the journey and everyone understands their role in getting there – is dependent on Planning.  These three criteria should have been addressed at the planning stage.

Next is Management of Change.  Until the organisation is aligned, the changes required to achieve the organisation’s goals will not be known and hence cannot be managed.

Leadership – at all levels – cannot be practiced unless the organisation is aligned and consensus on the required changes has been reached.  If this is not the case, leadership will resemble

“The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up; and when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down”

Now we come to Teams and Teamwork.  There are two prerequisites for effective teams and teamwork.  The first is that the team in question should have a clearly identified purpose and goal, both of which are subsets of the purpose and goals of the organisation as a whole.  Secondly, the catalyst to team development is a “significant performance challenge”.  Teams are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  Whether these two team criteria are met will depend on Organisational Alignment, Management of Change and Leadership.  And only when they are in place will the applications software on effective teamwork have a platform that is conducive to its long term development.

The last factor is Employee Engagement.  Its position indicates that it is the most dependent of the five variables that together form the implementation component of the organisational operating platform.  If the three criteria for Organisational Alignment are met; if the rationale for Change is understood; if Leadership is such as to accomplish the change required with the minimum of resistance and resentment; if the basics for effective Teams and Teamwork are in place; if team purpose and goals are embraced by team members  – then surely the groundwork for engaged employees has been laid?

Just as there is a hierarchy of dependency for implementation, a similar hierarchy exists for Planning.  Most of the strategic planning that I see places too much emphasis on “this is what we want to do” with too little thought given to “this is how we are going to do it”.  As a consequence, the resultant action program is based on the former rather than the latter.  Executive management fail to appreciate that whilst strategic planning may be determined from above, it is actioned from below.  The vital link between Planning and Implementing is Organisational Alignment.  At the planning stage, OA is about aligning the organisation to its external environment and its internal resources.  At the implementing stage, OA is primarily about the alignment of staff to the outcomes from the planning stage.  At the Monitoring, Measuring and Adapting stage, It’s about both.

Understanding the interdependence of every facet of the operational cycle is no mean task.  Realising that there is a hierarchy of dependency and knowing what order that hierarchy is in adds a further degree of complexity.  That’s why enterprise operating platforms are few and far between but applications software continues to proliferate.

Graham Haines is principal consultant of Plans To Reality that specialises in strategic planning and execution. He is the developer of the unique Wagon Wheel WayEnterprise Operating Platform. Graham has a joint honours degree from Durham University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. He is both a Certified Management Consultant and a Certified Practicing Marketer. His new book, “Execution to Die For – The Manager’s Guide To Making It Happen” draws on over 40 years’ of practical experience in understanding the interrelationship between all the factors that result in great execution.   His web site www.planstoreality.com.au contains upwards of sixty articles upon which “Execution to Die For” is based.


The Three Skill-sets of an Effective Manager

July 29, 2013

Let me ask you a couple of questions.  No. 1 – who is the best manager that you have ever had?  And No.2 – why did you select that person? Implement | Plan Strategic | Implementing | Implementation plan | Implementation management | Strategy Implementation | Implementations | Implementation guide | Implementation process

It might be that you are hard pushed to think of anyone in response to the first question but if you did identify someone, I bet I know why.  It wasn’t because of that person’s “technical” skills as a salesman or engineer or physiotherapist or teacher.  Nor was it because of that person’s self-management discipline – always had reports out on time, always seemed capable of doing a dozen things at once, never flustered.  No – the reason for your choice was that he or she treated you with respect, made you feel good, made you want to make that extra effort, made you feel part of the team.  In short, you felt empowered.

The qualities required of a manager fall into three skill sets – technical competence, self management skills and leadership skills.

Technical competence requires little explanation – it is simply the knowledge and skills required to undertake the role that has been given to the employee.  Self management skills are the personal attributes that enable employees to effectively exploit their technical knowledge.  Leadership skills – I prefer the term “empowerment skills” – may be defined as the ability to get the best from those for whom the manager is responsible.

The Western education system overwhelmingly focuses on teaching technical competence – even at a tertiary level.  University courses consist of a specific number of units that the student undertakes to acquire an academic qualification.  The units by definition are “single and complete” and are usually taught by a specialist in that particular discipline.  Some universities are now recognising that this narrow focus on technical skills does not adequately prepare the graduate for a subsequent career.  I know of at least one university that is adding  what it calls a “personal edge” module to its Management Degree in the belief that its graduates will have a competitive advantage when seeking employment.

Regarding the third set of attributes – empowerment skills – there are indeed units on Leadership, Change Management, Teams and Teamwork etc, but these units again are taught in isolation from one another and tend to focus on concepts and theory rather than on their practical application in the workplace.

When one considers the utilisation of these skill sets in the workplace, it is evident that, during the course of a manager’s career, the emphasis on two of them undergoes significant change.  At the commencement of one’s career, by far the greatest emphasis is placed on technical knowledge.  When technical knowledge is combined with self management skills, a junior management position will result and the third skill set will be brought into play.  As one’s career progresses, the ability to empower others will eventually supersede technical knowledge as the key requirement.  These days, technical knowledge becomes redundant very rapidly whereas empowerment skills have remained essentially unchanged over thousands of years.

In the final analysis every organisation is judged on its ability to get things done – to achieve its goals.  So a company exists to make an adequate profit; a hospital to cure the sick; a charity to aid the disadvantage; a government to enact legislation etc.  Unless the organisation is extremely small, getting things done can only be achieved by a collective effort and if that effort is to be effectively harnessed, an organisational structure is required, comprising workgroups, departments, divisions etc each with a designated manager.  The role of each manager, whether he or she is responsible for 5 or 5000 people, is to empower others – to get things done.

So given that empowerment skills are not taught at an academic level, how are they acquired?  There appear to be four sources of such knowledge.  The first of these is in-house training programs, the second is external training courses, the third is personal experience of what “works” and what doesn’t and the fourth is learning by example from your manager or supervisor.  All are valuable but I believe that the fourth is the most valuable of all.  I say this because the most fundamental requirement for getting things done – effective execution – is not leadership or change management skills or teams and teamwork.  It’s organisational alignment.  Organisational alignment is the bridge between planning and execution and it’s also unique to the workgroup, the department or the division as the case may be.  Before a manager can effectively deploy his or her empowerment skills, there has to be a collective and clear understanding as to who the customer of the group’s output is, what the objectives are, what the standards are and how the role and goals of your workgroup mesh with the goals of the organisation as a whole.

In my study of the reasons why things don’t happen as the planners intended, four out of the thirteen barriers identified at the planning stage relate to the empowerment of others and since the grand total of thirty-six barriers is arranged in sequential order it follows that an inability to overcome those at the planning stage will seriously compromise the quality of execution – the ability to get things done.

If you mentally selected someone in response to the first of my two questions, it’s highly likely that you chose him or her because that manager did take the trouble to explain the current situation that the workgroup found itself in; did involve you in the planning process itself; did listen to your views and act on your input; did acknowledge the extra work involved in implementation and take practical steps to ameliorate it and was prepared to explain how your workgroup’s objectives fitted with those of the organisation as a whole.  These are the things that good managers do and poor managers don’t.  This is Organisational alignment.  It starts with the alignment of the organisation’s goals to the environment in which it operates.  Next is the alignment of the strategies to achieve those goals.  It ends with the alignment of employees behind that part of the strategy for which they are responsible for executing.  Only when everyone is pointing in the same direction can managers empathetically manage change; display leadership and encourage responsibility; develop teamwork to meet performance challenges; foster employee engagement and set the example for meaningful and interactive communication.

So how widespread is effective leadership?  When I asked you to think about the best manager that you have worked for, did anyone spring to mind or was there more than one contender?  Certainly the research points to a decline in the ability – and I would maintain the willingness – of managers to empower their staff.  And to understand the reasons for this, you have to look at the modern work environment.  These days there are so many forces acting on organisations of every kind that result in one thing – change.  Change that happens with greater frequency and change that is ever more radical.  Its impact on employees is twofold.   Firstly, the timeframe for implementation is diminishing.  That old adage that the more people that plan the battle, the less there are to battle the plan is forgotten in the latest knee jerk reaction to cut costs, outsource manufacturing, install a new IT program, combat a new competitor, react to new legislation etc.  The second impact flows from the first.  Security of employment has pretty much ceased to exist.  There was a time when enforced redundancy was principally caused by poor performance.  Not so these days.  Off-shoring, out-sourcing, sub-contracting, takeovers, mergers, down-sizing, right- sizing, restructuring and insolvency  – employment has never been less secure.  Employee’s response to this insecure environment depends on which generation the employee is from.

Many Baby-boomers react to redundancy with a sense of anger towards management; they feel let down by an employer that did not replicate the loyalty that they have shown; many may also experience a sense of shame despite their performance having had no bearing on management’s decision to dismiss them.

Gen Y, in contrast, have lived in this world of job insecurity for the whole of their working lives.  They feel under less obligation to show loyalty to their current employer because their employer shows less loyalty to them.   Their strategy to counter the ever present threat of redundancy is to use their technical knowledge and self management skills to climb the management ladder as rapidly as possible reasoning that, as they progress, their employability credentials will be enhanced when they seek another job.  Unless the job in question is at the very highest levels of management, the selection criteria will be heavily weighted towards the first two skill sets.  Job insecurity and Gen Y’s reaction to it has further ramifications.  Looking after one’s vested interest takes priority over that of others.  People stay in the same job for much shorter periods of time.  People operate under much greater time pressures.  These three consequences militate against managers exercising empowerment skills.  It takes time that they do not have; it’s not worth it because they won’t be around to reap the rewards of their efforts and even if they were motivated to exercise them, it will do little to enhance their employability for their next career move.

That leaves Gen X.  Such is the pace of change in technical knowledge, many Gen X managers often feel threatened by their more technically advanced Gen Y reports.  When this happens, some managers will seek to neutralise this advantage by withholding information, by deliberately excluding their reports from the planning process and generally keeping them at arms length – in essence not taking those actions that have previously been identified as the foundation steps of empowerment.  There is a lot of truth in the axiom that people join companies and leave managers.

There is one further factor that militates against the managerial deployment of empowerment skills.  Let me take a hypothetical example.  It concerns a hospital nurse.  She has her degree and is recognised as being highly competent from a technical standpoint.  She’s keen and enthusiastic and works hard with a sense of self discipline.  Her relationships with her patients leave something to be desired  – her degree course focused almost exclusively on “technical knowledge”.  Neither its practical application nor soft nurse/patient interpersonal skills featured – the general attitude was that these could be learned on the job through experience.  Her manager is pleasant enough but she has only recently joined the hospital staff.  She doesn’t seem to be adequately informed by her boss on the overall picture except that money is very tight.  She appears stressed and the basic message to her staff can be summarised as “heads down, bums up”.  After 18 months in the job, she takes maternity leave and our nurse is promoted to replace her.  Suddenly, our newly promoted manager needs to exercise a whole new skill set for which she has been inadequately prepared.  Even if she recognises this, she doesn’t take steps to acquire these skills for two reasons.  Her predecessor didn’t display them so she has no example to follow and she feels much more comfortable exercising her technical knowledge.

This scenario is played out again and again where people are promoted because of their technical competence when what really matters in their new managerial position is their ability to empower their staff.  If this sequence repeats itself often enough, managerial role models become increasingly hard to find.  Management mediocrity becomes the norm.

Of course, there are natural leaders.  People who are very competent technically, have excellent self-management skills and who seem to know instinctively how to empower others.  But such people are rare – and becoming rarer.  You may be fortunate to have worked for one but the need for such managers is too great for any economy to rely on those few found in the wild.  We need to domesticate the breed and improve the gene pool with the ultimate goal of breeding managers with all three skill sets that will inspire those whom they manage to emulate their example.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the best selling authors of “The Leadership Challenge” summarised the findings of their extensive research on the subject as follows:  “Managers who focus on themselves and are insensitive to others fail, because there is a limit to what they can do by themselves.  Those leaders who succeed realise that little can be accomplished if people don’t feel strong and capable.  In fact, by using their own power in the service of others rather than in the service of self, successful leaders transform their constituents into leaders themselves – and wind up with extraordinary results”.

If the research is so compelling, why don’t more managers practice the skill of empowering those whom they manage?  It can’t be because the skills are hard to learn.  Indeed, the late James Strong, industry captain and patron of the arts, commented that “the key to leadership is simple common sense – treat people with respect and they will respond, no matter what background they’re from.  It’s worth 5000 textbooks on management, and the tragedy is it’s just plain common sense”.  Perhaps Voltaire had the answer when he observed that “common sense is not so common”.

 

Graham Haines is principal consultant of Plans To Reality. Graham has a joint honours degree from Durham University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. He is both a Certified Management Consultant and a Certified Practicing Marketer. His new book, “Execution to Die For – The Manager’s Guide To Making It Happen” draws on his over 40 years’ experience. His web site www.planstoreality.com.au contains upwards of sixty articles upon which “Execution to Die For” is based.

 


Searching for the Magic Bullet

July 8, 2013

In 1995, Eileen Shapiro published her book – “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom”.  The sub-title was “Reclaiming the Courage to Manage in the Age of Instant Answers”.  She defines “fad surfing” as “the practice of ridingConnecting The Plan With The Current Reality the crest of the latest management panacea and then paddling out again just in time to ride the next one; always absorbing for managers and lucrative for consultants; frequently disastrous for organisations.”

This observation by Eileen Shapiro reminded me of a comment by the GM of a $billion division of a major public company.  “We have invested close to $250,000 in an in-house leadership program and I’m not sure that I’m getting my money’s worth”.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t.

I receive a fairly constant stream of fliers promoting all manner of training courses and programs on a variety of topics, each proclaiming to be the one to take your organisation to new heights of performance.  Many of them relate to aspects of execution – communication skills, teamwork, change management and of course, seven ways to engage your employees and encourage them to greater discretionary effort.

Such programs are not without merit but they ignore two very significant factors.  The first is that no program by itself can raise organisational performance.  Second, great execution is a process – while some steps in the process can be tackled concurrently, others must be tackled sequentially.  So in order to optimise the benefits of the next program you are tempted to sign up to, it pays to understand the process of execution.

The Execution Process

There are six requirements for great execution, five of which address specific topics with the sixth being Communication, the catalyst for making everything happen.  The first five are as follows:

■          Organisational Alignment

■          Management of Change

■          Leadership – at all levels

■          Teams & Teamwork

■          Employee Engagement

Each of these requirements is dependent on the ones that precede it.  Thus Employee Engagement is the most dependent – which begs the question – what’s Organisational Alignment dependent on?

Organisational Alignment

Organisational Alignment is dependent on the quality of the plan – and the quality of the planning process.  The quality of the plan relates to its “technical” merits.  Does it align the current and future capabilities and resources of the organisation to the environment in which it operates now and in the future?  But, just as important, does the process used to develop the plan involve all those who will be charged with overseeing its implementation.  By the time the plan is ready for execution and the initial Action Plan has been agreed, a) everyone in the organisation should understand where the organisation is now, b) everyone should understand the overall goal and the broad strategies to achieve it, and c) everyone should understand their role and its relationship to the achievement of the goal.  That’s Organisational Alignment and that’s why it’s the fundamental requirement for great execution.

Management of Change

How can you manage change if you don’t know what changes are required?  These changes should have been outlined in the plan, together with the rationale behind them.  I’m not suggesting for one moment that managing change isn’t hard but it’s a damn sight harder if those on the receiving end do not appreciate the reasons for it.  As Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in her book – “The Change Masters” – “change is disturbing when done to us, exhilarating when done by us”.

Leadership at all levels

The position of Leadership in the number three spot always provokes the most debate.  Many argue that it should come before Organisational Alignment.  But I’m not referring to Leadership at the very top of the organisation, I’m focusing on those senior, middle and lower order staff who have a direct, operational role to play in the plan’s execution.  The basic requirement for leadership is a goal.  Leadership and goals have a symbiotic relationship – one cannot exist without the other.  If clear goals do not exist, Leadership will mirror –

The Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up; and when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down.

 This was the problem facing the GM referred to at the start of this blog.

Teams & Teamwork

When Teams & Teamwork is the subject of a stand alone training program, my observation is that the focus tends to be on interpersonal relationships, building team culture etc.  Teams and Teamwork are regarded as ends in themselves.  Whereas they should be regarded as a means to an end so the starting point for team development is a purpose that is aligned to the purpose of the organisation and a goal that is similarly aligned.  As Katzenback & Smith wrote in “The Wisdom of Teams” the catalyst for their formation should be a “significant performance challenge”.  Organisational Alignment, Management of Change and Leadership are all prerequisites for truly effective Teams and Teamwork.

Employee Engagement

I spent four years of my working life as a member of a high performing team.  They were easily the most satisfying years of my career prior to establishing my own consulting practice.  If one accepts the definition of employee engagement as “the employee’s emotional connection to an organisation that inspires greater discretionary effort”, then our team had discretionary effort in spades.  We were engaged in the execution of one of the company’s key growth strategies; we determined the direction of the changes required and implemented them; leadership was shared by the team members and teamwork was essential as we each contributed specialist knowledge – and deadlines were tight.  We grew to respect and trust each other but it wasn’t all hard yakka.  There was plenty of laughter as well.  We had no formal training in teamwork and the phrase “employee engagement” had yet to be invented.  But were we engaged?  You bet we were!

The point is this.

Employee engagement is the most dependent of the five requirements for great execution.  So there is no point in undertaking an engagement program unless the prerequisites for engagement are in place and these go right back to the planning process itself.  And if they are, you might find that a stand alone engagement program is no longer necessary.  Similarly, unless the organisation is aligned, programs on managing change, leadership, etc will not yield the hoped for benefits.

Communication

Communication is not referred to as “the good oil” for nothing.  It is the essential lubricant for keeping the wheels of execution rolling with the minimum of resistance.  I was careful to write “rolling” not “spinning”.  There are many who think that the Holy Grail is a harmonious organisation that tolerates everyone’s point of view and which abhors conflict.  Trouble is, that kind of organisation – if one ever existed  – doesn’t actually go anywhere.  It just spins its wheels.  Friction is needed for forward progress, and in an organisation that means keeping everyone informed, promoting, not stifling debate and listening to the staff at the customer interface of your operation.  Good communication results in a contest of ideas; poor communication in a contest of personalities.  And always remember that the most powerful form of communication – for good or evil – is not what you write, nor what you say but what you do.

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the effective execution of business and strategic plans.  Identifying and linking every stage in the execution process has led to the development of The Wagon Wheel Way Enterprise Operating System, the world’s first management framework that covers the complete operational cycle. He explores the whole issue of execution in his book – “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen”.  See http://www.executiontodiefor.com  He can be contacted via his web site ghaines@planstoreality.com.au   

 


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