Don’t just sit there!

In the Open University Business School MBA module I tutor [“Making a difference”], the students are expected to undertake an evidence based initiative in their own organisation. As they move through the process, we suggest that they use a mnemonic “CATUR” to assess the:

  • Complexities
  • Ambiguities
  • Tensions
  • Uncertainties and
  • Risks

associated with their proposals. As you might expect, there is quite a range in the skill with which these elements are applied.

There does however seem to be one reasonably consistent theme, which also echoes my experience with consultancy customers. Most students and businesses are very good at identifying the risks associated with the actions they are proposing. Sometimes, they even do some formal quantified risk assessments taking account of the probability and potential impact of a wide range of events.

Most, however, fail to consider the risks of not taking action and rarely weigh them against the possible benefits of doing something.

In the current uncertain times, it can seem appealing to take the low profile option and keep ones head down. This might seem the safest way to protect your job but it will hardly get you noticed either. There is always the danger that the company’s position will get worse without an intervention. The best policy may be to try something adventurous, be seen to be doing ones best and perhaps coming out with an enhanced profile in the business and beyond.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment… If it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.

Doing nothing might seem to be the easy option but it may not be the safest.

Don’t forget that it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission [Grace Hopper], particularly if it is demonstrably in the business’s best interests.

What can you do to make a difference in your business?

What is stopping you from making a start?

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  • David Petie  On May 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    There is a consistent them across all of these issues:-
    business risk of failure
    business risk of doing nothing
    They are predicated by the personal risks middle managers are prepared to take, in terms of their reputation and self perception.

    The Innovator’s Solution by Michael E. Raynor is a thought provoking book that provides insight into why large corporates find it difficult to grow.

    Raynor’s view is that middle management act as a block on the growth of a business. New ideas are stifled by them because they are usually unwilling to sponsor new product or service propositions that are very different from the current lines being offered. This reluctance to change the status quo can affect every aspect of the business, from introducing new production techniques to recruiting staff.

    In my experience (and naming no names) getting your ideas sold properly and effectively higher up the chain of the command is largely impossible in large corporates. I have many examples from my own career where people more senior than me were unwilling or unable to get board level support for an idea I had had. What this means is that you become reluctant to offer up further ideas and keep them to yourself.

    Raynor quotes evidence from the stock market that supports this, and also focuses on the short tenures CEOs have within businesses. Two to three year tenures are as much as most CEOs can manage, largely because they are thwarted by their own middle management. When a CEO joins a business they can generally introduce major change, either through a merger or acquisition. This brings with it growth simply through scale. However, once the dust has settled on the merger or acquisition, encouraging organic growth seems almost impossible to achieve. He feels that this explains why CEOs find it difficult to last more than a few years in a job.

    This also explains the poor performance of most corporate stocks and implies that middle management could be holding the economy back.

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