With the recent demise of several high profile organisations, it is prudent to look at how organisations move from strong healthy thriving ventures on to the slippery slope that leads to collapse.
Some key behaviours that indicate potential management danger at board level include:
- Autocratic leadership with minimal consultation. There are times for autocratic, ‘command and control’ style leadership within civilian organisations. Such a leadership style can be very useful for crisis management, turnaround situations or when there is a need for realignment. This style, is however, less productive in an enterprise that is in a ‘sustained’ growth or ‘startup’ phase. The leader needs to lead with a vision and gain input from the senior management team on how best to move forward. Humility in a senior leader allows them to recognize that they don’t know everything just because they are called ‘leader’ is really important. If you are a leader surround yourself with great people, leverage their knowledge, experience and talent and lead the team with insight and compassion.
- Lack of ownership or accountability. Senior management and leaders need to be accountable for their areas of responsibility, their actions, their behaviours and their performance. Everyone should know who is responsible for a feature or factor in the business and that person must take action to meet the levels of performance expected and agreed. Being accountable also means that poor performance can be assessed and someone helped in their pursuit of the target rather than no-one acting to resolve the issue.
- Unbalanced senior team. If everyone is thinking the same way then no-one is thinking! Having your best chums, your praetorian guard around you may feel reassuring but too much similarity in the senior team reduces any creative friction and frank debate, leading to ‘groupthink’ and thereby danger for the business.
- A weak financial director. Cash is king, so someone needs to know the financial position really well and control the costs. A weak financial person will be bullied, cajoled or ignored by the team, leading to financial danger.
- A combined chairman and CEO. In broad terms, the chairman runs the board of directors and the CEO runs the business. The CEO is responsible to the board for business performance so having a CEO responsible to himself as chairman of the board leads to a situation where there is no real governance of the business. These 2 roles must be kept separate.
- A lack of management depth. The senior team holds the business, its assets and its potential in trust for the owners. To get the best return on this investment requires strong leadership across many disciplines. A weak management team or one that has limited experience and depth will not be able to get the best performance from the business. They will also not recognize that there is a need to act when things start to go wrong. Even if they do act, the lack of depth and experience will limit their managerial options with potentially disastrous consequences.
As business leaders, we have a responsibility to the business owners, the customers and the employees to get the best out of the business and ensure that it endures.
Recognizing the symptoms that can lead to corporate collapse is critical in our stewardship of the company.
Dare to Aspire
In his book Simplicity, Edward de Bono, one of the World’s greatest experts on thinking, outlines his case for simplicity.
He believes that complexity is always failed simplicity.
Simplicity, he states, is not always the natural state, you have to make it happen. And that might require change.
Just because something has endured doesn’t mean it is the best way to do things now. There may be a better, simpler way.
The lazier a person is, the more likely they are to find the simpler solution. Henry Ford employed lazy people in his plant as they could find the most efficient manner of producing a car and the result was an efficient production line.
But unless simplicity is set as a priority, it will not be ‘built in’ to any solution.
There is an elegance in simplicity that is appealing and often cost effective. For example, software that is too comprehensive is too complex. Only a fraction of the functions of Microsoft Office are used by the majority of users and so lower cost, less comprehensive solutions, such as Google docs can thrive.
Recognising that complexity also generates waste, the Lean Six Sigma movement looks to remove all waste and only undertake processes that add value. These are often the most simple solution.
Edward de Bono has a passion for simplicity and as always, his research is comprehensive and his conclusions are well supported, resulting in 10 rules for simplicity.
His rules are:
- You need to put a high value on simplicity – Very few people do this. We look for simplicity only when the complexity to difficult to manage. If a task is within our skill level and not too taxing, we will not look too hard to make the process more simple, despite the value that simplicity can add.
- You must be determined to seek simplicity – The value of simplicity is something that you need to actively seek. We generally like simplicity when it costs us nothing or when it is free to implement. There are are however savings to be made in implementing simplicity.
- You need to understand the subject matter very well – You need to be very clear about what you are trying to do. You need to understand the values, processes and outcome involved. If you don’t understand the system fully, you may end up with a simplistic result rather than just being a simple solution.
- You need to design alternatives and possibilities – Design is critical here to find alternative methods to achieve which are both effective and simple.
- You need to challenge and discard existing elements – Challenge everything. Everything needs to justify its continual existence. Systems and operations have a natural tendency to grow complicated. if you can’t justify it being there, then shed it!
- You need to be prepared to start all over again – It can be very tempting to modify an existing structure rather than build from scratch. The more difficult and expensive the system, the less people want to scrap.
- You need to use concepts – Concepts are useful for simplifying complexity. They provide the first stage of setting the direction and purpose. Concepts are designed to be vague, however, after setting the direction, you must get specific to simplify the system.
- You may need to break things into smaller units – Complex systems work best when they are broken down into sub-systems. Smaller is inherently simpler.
- You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity – Comprehensive can mean complex. Simplicity may require you not look for comprehensive solutions to ensure what you get is as simple as possible.
- You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed – Users? Owners? Customers? Simplicity is a trade off. To make something simple for one stakeholder might make it more complex for another.
Consider these rules when you are crafting a solution or as part of a business process improvement project. Simplicity gives you an elegant and often friction free solution which sounds like something to aspire to.
Dare to Aspire
Braincram has a new summary of the Ford Harding book Rain Making.
You can find it here.
Dare to Aspire
The Intangibles of Leadership – The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance
As an Organisational Psychologist, Davis is routinely exposed to executives at all levels and so is uniquely placed to be able to identify which characteristics and behaviours result a superior leadership performance.
Davis’ conclusion from his years of research and experience is that there are 10 ‘intangibles‘ or characteristics that are the result of an individual’s underlying values and psychological mechanisms. He suggests that, although intelligence, training and experience are important, it is these 10 characteristics that lead to some leaders, not only succeeding, but thriving.
Each ‘intangible’ is discussed in its own chapter, with case studies to illustrate and highlight the importance and relevance of each characteristic.
Each chapter is also structured in a standard format asking and answering some fundamental questions for each ‘intangible’:
- What is it?
- How do I know it when I see it?
- How do I get it?
This style not only makes the information easier to absorb, but it also provides a practical approach that an executive can use to develop each quality themselves.
The 10 ‘intangibles’ are:
- Wisdom – Experience borne of involvement in business, tempered by reflection and by putting each experience into context.
- Will – The act of getting things done by purely applying oneself to the task diligently and consistently.
- Executive Maturity – Having sufficient self control and awareness to control your emotional reaction to an event and the ability to evoke emotions in others for positive influence.
- Integrity – Having a value system that is moral and consistently and visibly holding yourself to that value system.
- Social Judgement – Having emotional awareness and intelligence and understanding people as a means to leading them.
- Presence – A gravitas that allows you to be recognized.
- Self-Insight – Recognition of what it is that drives you and the impact you have on others is a key way to improve what you do and how you do it.
- Self-Efficacy – A self belief that you can make a difference and control events to get things done.
- Fortitude – The internal strength that you confront challenges with.
- Fallibility – An understanding that you are going to get things wrong but will still attempt the difficult tasks.
For anyone that is well read in the Leadership field, many of these characteristics will be familiar. What Davis has achieved in this book is to present each characteristic in a clear and easily accessible manner so that an executive or aspiring leader can indentify ‘the differences that make THE difference’. He has essentially made these ‘intangibles’ tangible and provided an action plan for leaders to develop the characteristics that can improve both their individual career and the performance of the organisations they are leading.
A valuable addition to any library on leadership.
For those who are interested in the coaching aspects of Business Performance Improvement or are coaches themselves, you may find my blog on coaching interesting.
The Coach’s Casebook looks at the application of coaching, case studies to consider and how coaching can be used to the benefit of both individual and business performance.
I hope you find it a useful resource.
Dare to Aspire
Productivity is an interesting word. It describes, in broad terms, the pace at which you generate output. As an worker, business owner, even a student, productivity is important.
Having an system that allows you to create your output more effectively more means that you can free up time. Time you can spend on play, hobbies or even just more output.
Here are 7 productivity tips to help you achieve more:
- Focus on what is important. Activity isn’t progress unless it is activity towards your vision. It is your goals that allow you to identify and select your priorities. Select tasks that move you towards those goals.
- Stop Multi-tasking. Select your top priority task and work on it until it is complete or until you reach a point where you cannot continue because of external dependencies. Then work on the next priority. A person with 10 priorities has no priorities so avoid having a task list that is too long.
- Avoid Distractions. Learn to focus on just one thing at a time. Distractions divide your effort and it often takes some time to re-engage with your original task. For example, Avoid checking email as soon as it hits you inbox. Just finish the task at hand and check email at a scheduled time
- Break Projects Into Several Tasks. Projects are often very large and take a long time to complete. By splitting large projects into a series of tasks, you remove the perception that the task is unmanageable. You also see individual tasks for their value to the overall project, those which matter and those which can be discarded. You can then also then apply tip 1 and focus on what really matters.
- Batch Similar Tasks Together. Routine is a significant waste of effort, particularly if you have to repeat something which requires time and effort to prepare. Prepare once and then repeat the process for all tasks of a similar type.
- Do Something Positive. Sometimes, it is difficult to get started on a big task of you find yourself blocked by a limitation of self belief or motivation. Just take some positive action. Anything that moves you forward is good and the very act of doing something can often free up the motivation and creativity you need to progress.
- Sharpen the Saw. Dr Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ has ‘Sharpen the Saw’ as habit 7. It is the habit of self renewal. Take time for yourself to recharge your batteries, reenergize your motivation for your vision and then get back to the tasks at hand.
By committing to applying these few tips in your daily activity, you will develop behaviours that lead to increased productivity. As with most things in life, it is the simple things that are often the most profound and most effective.
Dare to Aspire
Braincram has a new summary of the book ‘Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done’ by Larry Bossidy et al.
You can find it here.
Dare to Aspire