Category Archives: Management

Keep it simple stupid – but don’t be simply stupid

Albert Einstein allegedly said:

“Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler”

The constant drive for efficiency and effectiveness has encouraged the use of standardised solutions in situations where similar issues or events need to be handled but we need to take care that we don’t over simplify our approach or over-standardise our solutions. Perhaps we need to take note of this observation:

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”

Harry Day – Royal Flying Corps First World War fighter ace.

A short story to illustrate the riskPay and Displays.

An early morning visit to a local town-centre supermarket led me to park in their underground car park. The store offers short-term parking at competitive rates and the fee is refunded to shoppers who make modest purchases. The system is managed using a pay and display system which dispenses a ticket and a voucher for the refund.

Approaching the nearest machine, I noted that it was out of order as was the next nearest. Looking round the car park, I spotted two security men at one of the more remote machines and decided to approach them. I asked whether that machine was out of order too. Their response took me by surprise. “They are all out of order at this time of the morning, until we have replaced the batteries – they are solar powered!”

This system has been in place in both the above ground and basement car parks for at least 10 years.

Some observations:

  1. The design and selection of the pay and display machines was probably appropriate to the most of the locations in which they were required – but clearly not all. The choice of a standardised solution is also understandable but perhaps it would have made sense to have considered the situations where the standard design would not be appropriate.
  2. There are mains powered items in the basement, lighting, signage but did anyone do an analysis to compare the cost of running cables to the machines with the cost of changing the batteries every day?
  3. What does it say about the culture of the organisation and the engagement of the staff if this situation was not reported to the management [or perhaps it was reported but not acted upon]
  4. Many organisations outsource their facilities management, one could question whether these arrangements encourage the reporting of such absurdities and whether the people employed in these roles have any incentive to report them.
  5. Does this demonstrate an organisation which knows how to learn and improve?

Do you have any problems caused by inappropriate standardisation?

Would your people report it to the appropriate manager?

Would any action be taken?

What do your customers think when they spot this type of situation?

Necessary but not sufficient

In 1950’s Fredrick Hertzberg introduced his two-factor model of motivation.

Hygiene Factors

Pay, Working Conditions, Status etc – don’t motivate but demotivate if missing.

Motivators

Responsibility, Challenge, Control over own work etc. – Turn people on and fire them up.

Whilst this has come under critical examination in recent years and is now considered simplistic, his basic notion that what satisfies does not motivate can be useful in guiding management thinking and action.

The structure of his idea, that what is adequate at one level is not enough for the next level is an approach with broad application.

Many of us focus too much attention on what is necessary for success in our field of interest. We don’t always concern ourselves with whether this is sufficient to ensure we reach our goals.

In the education field, meeting the criteria for passing a course is unlikely to be adequate to obtain a high mark and more importantly may not be enough for real learning.

What gets you a job is usually not sufficient to make you a star performer.

In football [and other sports]  the team that gets you promoted out of one division is rarely good enough to allow you to succeed or perhaps even to survive at the higher level.

Management Competence

IStar Vs Goodn his work on management competence, Richard Boyatzis pointed out that the skills necessary to be appointed to a particular job were not enough for success at that level. He went on to describe how the star performers were not necessarily better at these  core or “threshold competences” but had an additional set of “differentiator competences”which set them apart them from their peers.

In broadly technical roles, the differentiator competences are likely to be personal, interpersonal and communication skills – people with this skill set stand out from their [potentially] more technically competent colleagues. These additional skills are frequently crucial for business success.

What does this mean for you?

Think about this from your business’s perspective:

  • Do you promote people for being good at their current job or for being well equipped for the next.
  • How do you prepare them for the transition?
  • What is it that makes your star performers stand out and how can you spread these capabilities?

If you don’t think this through and put plans in place to deal with it, you will promote the wrong people to the wrong jobs. I’ve seen this happen many times, with companies losing good engineers, accountants etc. and gaining poor managers in the process.

It can be a lose:lose strategy!

Encouraging Enterprise

Encouraging Enterprise StructureIt doesn’t have to be this way, you can develop these stand out skills in your people. Our Encouraging Enterprise approach is an integrated programme of:

  • Training
  • Coaching
  • Guided Work Experience and
  • Senior Management Support

The programme is specifically designed to help professionals with technical skills make the transition into business and management roles.

Being “Best in Breed” may not make you “Top Dog”!

In services it is very difficult to differentiate yourself from your competition and it is even more of a problem for professional service organisations. It is very difficult to be distinctive, memorable and stand out from the crowd when everybody is qualified, capable and seems to be the same.

One route you can take is to become the very best at what your business does – what you might call a “Best in breed” strategy – but is this the best way forward?

“Best in Breed” Strategy

In a dog show, such as Crufts which has just finished, the best in breed winner is the dog which most closely matches the “breed standard”, it ticks all the boxes and has no faults but you have to ask whether the fine distinctions which gain favour from the judges are noticeable let alone memorable to the general public. And of course, there is only room for one “best in breed”.

Moving into the business arena, being “best in breed” may be a useful approach if you have a very narrow niche or have the resources to get ahead of and stay ahead of the competition but it won’t work for most businesses. You need to be different, you need to have personality and you need to build a community of customers who value who you are and how you do what you do. That’s what makes you “you”, makes you distinctive and makes customers [and employees] come to you.

Distinctive and Memorable?

Family DogYou need to have the key elements of the “breed standard” demonstrate capability but it is the other factors which make you distinctive and memorable. Unless you want to compete in Dog Shows, you don’t pick your family dog because of how closely it matches the standard!

All your competitors will have similar:

  • People [qualifications and experience]
  • Processes
  • Experience

Or they wouldn’t be in the business. You need to find a way of being different and that is best achieved through your people and your processes [what you do and how you do it]. To turn some customers on you may have to take the risk of turning some off, not everyone will like what you do and if you try to please everyone, you will end up being bland! You need what my friend Andrew Thorpe calls a “Marmite Pitch”

Very good but very ordinary

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t be ordinary and it is very easy to be very good but very ordinary. Barry Gibbons then of Burger King was quoted by  Tom Peters’ as saying “Even when we did it right, it was still very ordinary”

Ordinary is not memorable and it’s not distinctive.

Extraordinary Expertise

Whether you are in:

  • Accountancy
  • Law
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Financial Services

You and your people need to be extraordinary and that means paying attention to how you do things and how you interact with your customers, it’s not about getting better at what you do. That is obvious and easy to copy – if you can do it, everyone else can do it. To be distinctive and memorable and maintain this, you need to get brilliant at things that your competition doesn’t take seriously.

This means building outstanding customer care, building strong customer relations and giving your team extraordinary expertise by developing what are often called “soft skills” but they are not soft, they are hard and they are crucial to your business success. You need to encourage enterprise and build distinctive capabilities.

You don’t get to be top dog by being best in breed!

Four project management lessons from the BRIT awards

Listening to some of the coverage of the BRIT music awards and the problems that delays caused for star of the show Adele – and her reaction, reminded me of a conversation I had about project scheduling at the start of a major capital project.

The conversation involved me, experienced Project Manager Barry Ryan and our mutual client. In reality, I was a bit of a bystander but the message was valid. The conversation when a bit like this:

Barry: How does a project get to be six months behind schedule?

Client: I’ve done lots of projects but never got to the bottom of that one.

Barry: Well, its one day at a time.

Wise words!

So, what’s the message from this for project management [and time management and event planning for that matter]:

  1. You need to be vigilant from the start – especially if things slow down
  2. You need to understand what is important to all of the stakeholders
  3. You have to be clear about your objectives and
  4. You have to know what you can cut and what you can’t – understand the landscape of the project

If you don’t you’ll get no choice and will end up having to cut what comes towards the end – which may be the most important part.

Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

When you are faced with a critical decision in your business, you probably recognise that you will need to give it some thought but how often do you think about how you need to think about the issues involved?

That’s right! Do you think about how you need to think?

In his seminal work, Six Thinking Hats, Dr Edward de Bono highlighted the need for different modes of thinking at different points in the process and in particular the need for everyone involved to be thinking in the same way at the same time.

I’d like to build on that idea by suggesting eight key thinking styles that you should apply to any critical decision you need to make – I call this Pivotal Thinking. The key themes are outlined below and each will be explored in detail in subsequent postings.

The thinking styles are:

  1. Critical
  2. Strategic
  3. Creative
  4. Systemic
  5. Project
  6. Lateral
  7. Process
  8. Reflective

Critical Thinking

This style is particularly useful for examining information and testing assumptions. It is exemplified by the approach of Henry Fonda’s character [Juror #8] in “12 Angry Men”, probing, challenging and taking nothing for granted.

Strategic Thinking

This approach is crucial for looking at the big picture and long term. It means standing back from the detail and looking at aims, objectives, trends and capabilities. It also means looking at opportunities, threats and options from the perspective of all stakeholders.

Creative Thinking

To get ahead of your competition, avoid getting into a rut and find better answers to the challenges you face, you need to think creatively. Contrary to popular opinion, this can be helped by a structured approach which balances and sequences divergent and convergent thinking, selecting appropriate tools and techniques at each stage.

Systemic Thinking

You probably learned to think systematically at school / university but sometimes there is a need to think about the system as a whole, the interactions between the various parts and the causes and consequences of particular options. This style goes hand in glove with both strategic and creative thinking.

Project Thinking

Managing projects needs a different style of thinking to most management situations. Project thinking requires you to pay attention to the sequence of events, the flow of information and the interactions between events. It is highly relevant to the implementation of strategy and requires focus on objectives, roles and resources.

Lateral Thinking

Your closest competitors are likely to come up with similar strategies and solutions to those you arrive at through logical analysis, so it can be useful to use lateral thinking to arrive at better, non-intuitive solutions. This thinking style, invented by Dr Edward de Bono, encourages you to arrive at better solutions by attacking the issue from completely different perspectives and often through an intermediate unworkable solution.

Process Thinking

In many cases, it can be very useful to use these thinking styles in combination or in appropriate sequences. This is where process thinking comes in – a bit like the Blue Hat in Six Thinking Hats, it will help you select the right thinking style for the situation and decided on the order in which to apply them [and recycle if necessary]

Reflective Thinking

To help you learn and benefit from previous experience, it can be useful to adopt a reflective thinking style. This will allow you to look at what you have done in the past and the results you have got. If you combine it with a critical approach, you may get to the real causes of past failures and successes and develop much improved approaches.

So the next time you think you need to think about something – think first about how you need to think.

Think about it!

What was that about turkeys and Christmas?

In yesterday’s Sunday Times [9th October 2011], Rod Liddle wrote a short piece about the difficulties faced by BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, in his attempts to reduce costs by slimming down the middle management of the organisation. Liddle, suggested that Thompson was facing a losing battle as those charged with making the change were those most likely to be negatively affected.

What’s new?

As Liddle commented, some of  Thompson’s predecessors have tried and failed.

This highlights an issue faced by most change agents in this type of situation.

Change Effort and Reward Balance

When I’m guiding change, I use this matrix to help me assess the likely attitudes and motivations of those involved in the change, it helps me to assess the likely sources of resistance and points me to possible avenues to ease these concerns. Having significant numbers of people who can expect low or negative rewards from the process but who are charged with making significant contributions to the process should set the alarm bells ringing.

Issues which might need to be addressed are whether:

  • The scope of the change can [and should]  be adjusted to remove the worst of the negative impacts or to add additional benefits for the this group.
  • The make-up of the group can be modified to take account of motivations.
  • It is possible and / or feasible to bring in temporary support.

and how to improve the messages to actively engage other groups.

Despite the clear motivation issues, resistance from these groups can be quite difficult to identify as it is usually passive. The participators are likely to agree with the objectives and proposed actions, they are likely to be supportive in meetings and agree to handle a reasonable proportion of the necessary tasks – they just never [or rarely]  get round to doing anything. This passive resistance can also be difficult to deal with as the reasons for any delay will seem plausible.

This group has the “advantage” of having significant workloads outside the change initiative and being aware of the key priorities in the current scheme of things to find pressing tasks to fill their time. The question for the change managers  is to decide whether to work round this group or to confront the issue, with the potential for further disruption. A solution must be found if the change process is not to stagnate.

Change agents must also be aware that they are unlikely to get more than grudging support from even those groups with something to gain [see matrix above].

This is succinctly explained by

“there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Niccolo Machiavelli 1469 – 1527

This emphasises the need to communicate effectively with all groups and making the benefits of the proposals clear to all concerned.

If you are contemplating changing anything in your business look here first.

Me, myself and I – understanding stakeholder perspectives

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you will know that I do my best to avoid “management speak” and jargon. I make no apologies, however, for using the term “stakeholders”. It means anyone who has an interest in, can affect or be affected by the business. I find it particularly useful to consider stakeholders in planning and implementing change programmes. Effective consideration of stakeholders and their needs, desires and motivations can go a long way to helping you sell your ideas, gain support and minimise resistance – but you have to do it carefully and put some effort in.

Standard Stakeholder Map

Standard Stakeholder Map

The figure above shows a typical “first pass” mapping of potential stakeholders – this is a useful start but may not be adequate for your needs. In many cases, you will need to break these top-level groups down into smaller subgroups. For example:

Customers: Do they all have the same needs?

Managers: Are specific individuals or functions affected in different ways?

Employees: Are all groups affected equally, are some better organised than others etc?

You will need to break the stakeholders down into smaller sub-groups and possibly consider some people on an individual basis.

Multiple perspectives

It is also worth noting that in today’s more complex environment, some people will fall into several stakeholder groups and that will affect their overall perception. For example, an employee may also be:

  • A shareholder
  • A neighbour
  • An investor – through pension funds etc.
  • A customer

    An individual's perspective

    An individual's perspective

So, their view of any proposed change can be quite complex.

Also bear in mind that the various stakeholder groups are likely to interact with each other.

Mini Case Study

I was discussing this issue with a client who is a third-generation director in a successful family run business [SME]. He said that on any given topic, he can have several different views and that the balance between these might change through the day. So he can have different thoughts about the issue as:

  1. A functional director
  2. As an owner of the business
  3. As a member of the extended family
  4. As Husband / Father in his own family
  5. Himself!

    Case Study

    Case Study

For him to be happy with any decision or change, it has to be right [or at least bearable] from each perspective! No wonder it can be so difficult to get support for your ideas!

What does this mean for you?

Thinking any idea through from stakeholder perspectives will help you to:

  • Sell your ideas by giving you a better understanding of each group / individuals
    • Needs
    • Desires
    • Motivations and
    • Fears
  • You will be in a stronger position to gain support by fine tuning your proposal
  • You will be better able to anticipate and respond to any resistance and
  • You will be much better prepared to engage in a sensible dialogue with any of the interested parties and that could lead to an even better idea!

By any other name…

Having worked on a couple of projects in Russia, I was interested to see this news item on BBC today.

“Russia classifies beer as alcoholic”

The idea of beer being thought of as “soft” drink got me thinking about the influence the names we give to things influence our behaviour. It reminded me of my first day at Grammar School – in fact the first few minutes!

Our form master introduced himself to us and then gave us some of the basic rules and spelt out the expected behaviour standards. He went on to say …

“You are now at the Grammar School and you are here to learn.
We don’t have a playground, we have a school yard,
we don’t have playtime, we have morning and afternoon break …”

It set the scene and we were left in no doubt that we had to “put away childish things”! I don’t know what effect it had on our creativity but it sure pointed us in the direction of study.

Do the names you give to things in your business have a positive or negative effect on the way you behave?

Could you change people’s attitudes to issues such as performance management, appraisal and staff engagement if you called them something else?

What would could you call them and how would it help?

Logical Developments … well maybe not!

If you are looking to develop your business and call in outside help, you are likely to be told to:

  • Be clear about where you are trying to go [some form of vision or mission statement]
  • Analyse what is going on in the market / world [STEP and market analysis]
  • Examine your strengths and weaknesses [SWOT or resource analysis]
  • Produce a plan to help you get there

Different advisors will use different jargon for each of these stages but they all mean the same thing – a logical analysis of the situation, a logical assessment of your capability to compete and a logical plan for moving forward. A very logical approach.

Usually, this is sound advice, particularly  if you want to improve gradually and it is certainly better than not doing any analysis but… there is a hidden danger.

if it is logical to you, it will be logical to everyone else!

and that will make it easy to copy and hard for you to differentiate yourself.

To make a step change in your performance and open up new possibilities, you sometimes need to think differently, look at the market differently and act illogically.

Aircraft landing at Nice - Cote d'Azur

(c) Jim Yates 2011

Think about Stelios and EasyJet for example: He didn’t say… “how can I make air travel a bit cheaper?” – “He thought ..”If I can make it as cheap to fly from Liverpool to Malaga as it is to get a train from Liverpool to Edinburgh – enough people will go to Malaga for the weekend to make it profitable!” [You can insert your own choice of cities – the idea’s the same!] By doing this, he created a profitable niche in a very challenging market [and acquired a lot of imitators over time!]

It may sound logical once you get to the idea but you wouldn’t get there by logical, analytical thought processes. You might be able to construct a logic for how you got there by working backwards but you’d never get there in a logical linear fashion.

So how can you look at your product, service, market from a different angle and come up with an offering that excites new groups of customers?

Do you have the skills to help your team to come up with radical, illogical answers?

How can you encourage new ideas and more importantly stop crushing them?

Don’t do that, do this!

Sometimes we forget the simple ideas which we know work and can make a real difference! So it is good to be reminded from time to time.

I recently attended a  Business Scene talk by Lara Morgan who sold her business Pacific Direct  for £20 million a couple of years back. In the course of her candid, energetic and insightful presentation, Lara commented that the use of Pareto’s Law [80:20] rule had been instrumental in her approach, allowing her to focus on what really mattered in her business.

I’ve known about the rule for many years but Lara’s comments got me thinking and reminded me of something I’d worked out some time ago!

If 80% of the value of what you do comes from 20% of what you do then:

The time spent on your most valuable efforts is worth 16 times that spent on the least valuable activities!

How does that change your attitude to:

  • Delegation?
  • Developing your team?
  • Focusing your efforts?
  • Outsourcing?

So what are you going to cut out or pass on to others next week?