Tag Archives: action

To catch a fish – you need to go fish!

Early in my career, I worked with an outspoken, verbose and loud senior Engineer from the Southern States of the USA. He had a machine gun delivery talking at 50 to the dozen and could be hard to follow.

He always started every day with the same question.

Are we going to cut bait, hook up or go fish?

It took me a while to catch his meaning but once I did, I realised it was an excellent way to start the day – preparation is necessary but at some point you have to take action. No action – no results.

So are you ging to:

  • Cut bait
  • Hook up or
  • Go Fish

Today?

Turning good ideas into effective action

Background

I’ve worked in capital projects for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen many examples of great ideas which ought to have been put in to action and lots of really bad ideas which have had money thrown at them. A few years ago, I co-authored a paper for the Irish Academy of Management which looked at how internal systems, policies and procedures had limited the ability of a couple of companies who were trying to enter a growing market sector and enabled another [with arguably fewer resources] to do so effectively.

I was also mindful of an interview I’d heard Michael Porter give around the time that he produced a report for the Government on UK Competitiveness. He suggested that the strategies developed by UK companies were at least as good as those dreamed up by our competitors but that our top management teams were much less able to communicate the intentions, rationale and requirements of those strategies to their middle managers.

Approach

This got me thinking and I produced a Mind Map based on the McKinsey 7S model to structure all of the issues which I thought might have a bearing on the issue.

Mind Map

Strategy Implementation Mind Map

It’s clearly a complex issue which would need a lot of research to sort out but I thought it would be worth my while doing a little digging around and I wanted to test out the LinkedIn Polls feature which someone had recommended.  So I started a poll.

In retrospect, I ought to have thought about it a bit more before diving in but…

I learned quite quickly that the structure of the poll places some significant limitations on what you can ask and how participants can respond but here is what I asked:

What is the main reason stopping businesses from implementing the good ideas they come up with?

The five options I listed were:

  1. Finance
  2. Company systems, policies and processes
  3. Organisational Culture
  4. Skills
  5. Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence

I realised that I had failed to make it clear that I was talking about ideas which were generally held to be beneficial for the business and that the final option was intended to refer to the individuals concerned rather than the businesses. You live and learn!

The poll was open to three distinct groups of people on the LinkedIn Network:

  1. My personal contacts ~ 500 at the time
  2. The Alumni of the Open University MBA programme
  3. Members of the Institute of Directors

Results

The graphic below summarises the results of the poll which drew about 350 votes and around 100 comments across the three groups.

LinkedIn Poll results

LinkedIn Poll results

Observations

I had expected that in the in current economic climate, most of the votes would be for Finance – what was surprising was that most respondents felt that cultural and organisational issues were the most predominant cause of good ideas falling by the wayside. Many commentators suggested that Company policies, systems and procedures and to some extent Risk Aversion / Self-Confidence were attributes of Culture too. Several also thoguth that Structure was a relevant issue [harking back to the 7S model].

This seems reasonable  and is worthy of investigation in a more structured research programme.

It was notable that there were comparatively few votes for Skills – what was interesting was that quite a few commentators mentioned that Communication ought to have been added to the list of options. I had in my mind at the outset that communication skills were likely to be a significant contributor [and this had been alluded to by Michael Porter]. So perhaps it was my communication skills which led to the low vote!

The comments on the poll provided some very useful insights into the issue and if you would like to see all of the comments, please drop me a request by email to jim@fulcrum-management.co.uk.

What it means for you!

It seems likely that in most businesses, there are cultural and systems barriers which get in the way of good ideas being raised by the workforce and finding their way to the top of the organisation. Similarly, there are barriers which stop the good ideas and strategies of the top team from permeating down to the workforce / implementors in a way which motivates them to take effective action. If you want to move your business forward, you will need to address both sets of barriers.

It also seems that when Finance is put forward as a reason for not taking action, it may well be just an excuse! The real issue may well be that it is just too difficult to get things done round here!

On a brighter note, it seems that where there’s a will, there’s a way – where there is a consensus for action a budget will be found!

Please let me know what you think.

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?