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 ….?


Teams ain’t what they used to be!

June 27, 2013

I don’t think anyone questions the value of teams and teamwork.  Whether it’s a political party, a sporting team or a workgroup at your place of work, everyone knows that small groups of people working together can achieve much more than the same number of people working independently of one another.

But let me ask you a question – would you regard your workgroup as a high performing team?

If you do, you are very fortunate because the majority never experience the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from being a member of a close-knit band that work together to achieve a common goal.  The reality is that, despite all the advantages of teamwork, our work environment actually discourages the development of teams.  I know this to be a fact because my consultancy has a survey instrument that measures how effectively team members work together.

Actually we do not use the word “team” except in very special circumstances.  The collective noun we use is “workgroups” and we have identified six levels of workgroup effectiveness.  Starting at the bottom with “a Group of Individuals”, the next level up is “Embryonic Workgroup”, followed by “Developing Workgroup”, “Established Workgroup” and “High Performing Workgroup” in that order.  The last and ultimate workgroup rates as a “High Performing Team”.

The fundamentals are changeing

One of the many reasons why team development so often founders is that management sees Teams and Teamwork as an end it itself, rather than as a means to an end.  In fact the whole rationale behind teams has changed significantly over the last 30 years or so as this table demonstrates[1].

                        Workgroups (Teams)

Emphasis from ……… Emphasis to ………..



As an end in themselves As a means to an end
Quality of working life Organisational performance



Operational Strategic & Operational



To get along better To improve workgroup performance
Employee engagement Organisational alignment



Functional Cross-functional



Outside main organisational structure Main building block of organisational structures

Measure of effectiveness

Measure of effectiveness

How do we all feel? Have we achieved our goals?



Team building groups, interpersonal skills Team skills, quality tools, problem solving tools, personal growth tools, communication skills, process skills

Performance appraisals

Performance appraisals

Individual Workgroup & individual



Temporary Permanent



Elitest The way we do things around here

Taken as a whole, this table signals a very significant change in emphasis.  When organisational teams became the focus of research after the end of the Second World War, the primary purpose in their formation was to benefit the work life of the individual members.  The spin-off was enhanced organisational performance.  Today, it’s the other way around.  The primary benefit of teams is seen as enhanced organisational performance with the spin-off being quality of individual work life.  I’m not sure that consultants and trainers have caught up with these changes.

Graham Haines

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the effective execution of business and strategic plans.  Teams and Teamwork is one of five requirements for really effective implementation, the others being Organisational alignment, Management of Change, Leadership – at all levels – and Employee Engagement.    He explores the whole issue of execution in his unique book – “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen”.  He can be contacted via his web site ghaines@planstoreality.com.au   

[1] The above table builds on one taken from “Managing Teams” by Lawrence Holpp

Strategic Market Management

March 13, 2013

planningWhenever I hear a radio interview with a public figure who speaks candidly on a topic without the usual spin, resists the temptation to offer black or white solutions and is prepared to admit that he or she does not have all the answers, a flood of text messages always seems to follow  from listeners saying how refreshing it is to hear someone speaking with such candour.  Rather than detracting from the interviewee’s reputation, it actually enhances it.

I wish more of this country’s politicians would get the message.

What triggered the above thought was the recent announcement by the government that bringing the budget into surplus in the current fiscal year was no longer achievable.  Most commentators had always believed that it was an objective doomed to failure and that Labor regarded it as a political rather than an economic necessity.  Treasurer Wayne Swan was at pains to point out that the government’s expenditure cuts had been outdone by the fall in tax revenue due to a variety of factors outside the government’s direct control.  I just do not understand why governments and organisations of all sorts make promises when their ability to keep them is beyond their power to manage.  All plans and strategies are developed on the back of certain assumptions and when those assumptions no longer hold true, it’s time to adapt and revise the plan to the new reality.

This is no more true than with business plans and the adoption of the Wagon Wheel Enterprise Operating System (EOS) provides executive management with not just a process for achieving great execution but also one for testing whether failure to meet the planners’ expectations is due to circumstances beyond or within the planners’ sphere of influence and control.  If the latter, the solution lies within the organisation itself; if the former, there is no alternative but to revise the plan – as Wayne Swan has demonstrated.

If the plan under consideration is a far-reaching one – a strategic business plan for example – the assumptions or the rationale behind the Plan need to be summarised in the planning document.  In the list of the 36 barriers to making it happen, Barrier No. 2 states – “The rationale behind the Plan was never incorporated in the final written document.”

Apart from providing a point of reference, this summary of the Plan’s rationale and the assumptions upon which it was based also pays dividends at the implementation phase.  Barrier No.18 states – “The rationale behind the proposed changes was not sufficiently explained to those most affected by them”.

Unlike the majority of organisational “visions”, Wayne Swan’s policy did have a clear objective so it was possible to do the sums and conclude that a budget surplus was no longer achievable without inflicting unnecessary damage to the economy.  Note that the budget surplus has not been wholly abandoned; it has just been put back a year.

In this age of on-going change and the global economy, it is inevitable that plans at best need constant adaptation; at worst, complete revision.  Yet so many organisations develop a plan and then fail to keep check on the assumptions on which it was founded.  Such organisations run foul of Barrier No. 35 – “Although we recognised that the external environment is changing. we continue to focus on implementation rather than revise the Plan”.

Successful plans and strategies are always a combination of doing the right thing and doing things right.  If a continuation of doing the right thing is still practical and realistic, then the emphasis remains on doing things right.  But if doing the right thing is no longer feasible then how well you do it is irrelevant.  You have to face the new reality and do what Wayne Swan has done – change the plan.

How NOT To Manage Change

November 21, 2012

How NOT To Manage ChangeOften the best way of explainingto someonehow one should do something is to show him or her what can happen if you do the opposite…

In the Chapter in “Execution to die for”on the management of change, I referred to the case of French Telecom.  Over a two year period, 35 employees of the Company committed suicide and many of these left suicide notes blaming French Telecom for their decisions to end their lives.

Here’s the extract from the book:

“Unfortunately even-handedness and reasonableness is totally lacking in some of the restructuring that has taken place around the world in recent years. I am appalled and horrified at the stories I read about the stress and hardships inflicted on staff in the name of restructuring. The combination of advances in information technology and privatisation is a potent force for management excesses.”

“In October 2009, the world’s press was full of news that 25 employees of France Telecom had committed suicide since the beginning of 2008. During this period the company made another 22,000 people redundant, bringing to 40,000 the number of employees shed since its privatisation in 1998. One employee in his suicide note referred to “management by terror”, another wrote that she “was getting a new boss and I’d rather die”.”

“In April 2009, the company’s chief executive said in a letter to shareholders that the company had added 12 million new customers in 2008 and had met all of its objectives for the year confirming that it was “equipped to withstand the impact of a very unstable environment”. But at what price was this commercial goal achieved?”

“The initial response of France Telecom was to maintain that the suicide rate among its employees was no more than the national average. It was then pointed out to the company that the reasons given by employees for their decision to end their lives referred to the stress at work caused by individual, performance based evaluations and such policies as the “principle of mobility” that forced managers to move to new branch offices every three years. The former had led to a workplace climate of “every man for himself”.”

“When employees feel harassed at work, they are less likely to confide in colleagues or seek help. “It is a kind of great loneliness that settles in the workplace”, commented Christophe Dejours, a psychiatrist and occupational health expert. Two questions need to be asked. Could the same commercial result have been achieved without the above consequences? And if it could not, is it morally right and ethical that commercial performance should come at such a price?”

Due to pressure exerted by the unions and politicians, Didier Lombard, the CEO, was forced to step down from the job before his tenure was up.  He has now been indicted by a French court over allegations that he led a corporate culture of bullying and harassment that resulted in the aforementioned deaths. In addition to the 35 employees, another 22,000 lost their jobs in the same period.  Does restructuring come at any price? I think not…

Managing Change – A Case Study

January 19, 2012

Managing Change - A Case StudyIf it depresses me as an outsider to read of – and in some  instances experience – the impact of the current Qantas disputes, then I cannot  imagine how it must impact on the lives and families of those directly affected  by it.

I don’t wish to take sides – as I am quite certain that each  party has valid arguments to support their case – but I do want to take issue  with the Qantas management for their apparent reluctance to communicate with  their employees over the years that have preceded the present turmoil.

Over my career, I have had relatively little direct exposure  to industrial relations.  However, there  was one episode in the 1980’s that displayed many similarities with the present  Qantas dispute – namely a changing competitive and business environment, the  introduction of new technology, the out-sourcing of a critical service and a  union that felt that its power, influence and membership were under threat.

Read the full Case Study on the Plans To Reality Resource Centre

Responding To Changing Market Conditions

November 29, 2010

These last six months, I have been busy doing Customer Feedback Surveys for clients, anxious to measure their performance from their customers’ perspective, both in absolute – and competitive terms.  Significantly, all these organisations are existing bpi clients, having undertaken previous surveys and this gives the feedback an added dimension.  It enables us to track satisfaction levels from one survey to the next and reassess their competitive position.  Does the attribute that made you different and better in 2003 still make you different and better in 2011 and beyond?

Plans To Reality - Change ManagementThese surveys have yielded some highly significant results – here is a small selection.

    • In the space of eighteen months, one company’s market has split into three segments.  My client used to own the whole market.  Despite the continuation of customer satisfaction levels of a very high order, my client is faced with some key strategic decisions.  Making the right ones will have a major impact on the company’s future.  But it is debating the options with highly accurate data at its disposal.
    • Feedback from a previous survey indicated that this company really struggled to satisfy the needs of one segment of the market.  My client’s business model was simply not appropriate to meeting the needs of the customers in this segment.  Wisely, it withdrew from this segment and focused its resources on others.  The latest survey confirmed the correctness of this decision but also identified and quantified a continuing problem in execution that my client thought had been rectified.
    • No change in customer satisfaction levels but major changes in my client’s competitive position.  It used to enjoy a competitive advantage in the quality of the service provided and in its quality of customer support.  My client hasn’t got worse – but its competitors have got better.  They have realised that if they are to compete with my client, they need to improve their own performance – and they have done this.  It just proves the axiom that it’s easier to get to the top than it is to stay there.  So what does my client do now?  That’s the $64,000 question.
    • Another client’s very sophisticated IT system gave it an important competitive advantage.  The latest survey showed that that advantage is under attack.  The question asked in the survey was whether the quality of my client’s IT systems were better, same or worse than those of the competitors that the respondent was using.  “Quality” was defined as “IT systems that make life easier for you”.  At least one of my client’s competitors has a more user friendly system.  It’s not remotely as sophisticated as my client’s but it has one major thing going for it.  It doesn’t require double entry.


The one common denominator in the feedback is that the business environment in all cases has been subject to significant change – whether it’s the impact of the GFC on demand, changes to the hierarchy of customer needs, market fragmentation or new competitors – both direct and indirect.

Part 3 of my book, “Execution to die for – the manager’s guide to making it happen”, concentrates on the need to monitor and measure the progress on the implementation of the plan to see what’s working and what’s not. If the objectives of the plan are not being achieved, then the cause of failure must lie in one of two areas. Either the strategy implementation is not up to scratch or one or all of the assumptions on which the plan was founded no longer hold true. Frequently, of course, it’s a combination of both.

It’s my experience, however, that the majority of companies look to deficiencies in execution rather than any in the plan itself and thus embark on a program to treat the symptoms rather than investigate the causes. As Pogo – the comic character created by cartoonist and animator Walt Kelly once said – “having lost sight of our objective, we redoubled our efforts!”

If you are going to develop an effective response to these changes, you need to understand them – and there’s no better way to do that, than commissioning a feedback survey from bpi.

%d bloggers like this: