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The Rare Art of Getting Rapid Results

I was in a meeting with one of my clients who was one of the top 3 executives in a large company, and he was telling me his experience from a recent corporate retreat, where 24 of their top managers had gone in for a strategic planning session for three days in an offsite location.

In the retreat, about half the time was devoted to devising strategy using template. This was the exercise where a strategic planning firm which specialised in using the template approach for business strategy had come in and guided the process of creating an operational plan masqueraded as corporate strategy for the next 2 years.

Another half of the time in this corporate retreat was devoted to team building exercises where the top 24 managers in the company got to know each other’s goals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses and how to work with each other. My friend was extremely happy with the team building exercises, because for the first time since he joined the company five months ago, they had a heart-to heart talk with each other where everyone was really fired up to work as a single team, to create a corporate strategy and implement it.

On the other hand, the strategy by template exercise did not impress him much.

“Strategy By Template” approach rarely gets good results.

He felt they had missed some crucial inputs; the exercise should have been backed by a realistic data analysis; and that it should have challenged some of the common but flawed assumptions within the executive circle.

In fact, my friend showed me on his Kindle a paragraph he had highlighted from a highly acclaimed book – , Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad StrategyThe difference and why it matters (pp. 58-59). Since then, I have bought this same book on Kindle, and found it to be of great value.

” Not miscalculation, bad strategy is the active avoidance of the hard work of crafting a good strategy. One common reason for choosing avoidance is the pain or difficulty of choice. When leaders are unwilling or unable to make choices among competing values and parties, bad strategy is the consequence. A second pathway to bad strategy is the siren song of template-style strategy— filling in the blanks with vision, mission, values, and strategies. This path offers a one-size-fits-all substitute for the hard work of analysis and coordinated action. A third pathway to bad strategy is New Thought— the belief that all you need to succeed is a positive mental attitude. There are other pathways to bad strategy, but these three are the most common. Understanding how and why they are taken should help you guide your footsteps elsewhere.

Good Intentions Must be Translated into Good Results - Using Good MethodsImpressed with my friend’s enthusiasm for the team building exercise, I asked him: how often do they have to do something similar in order to retain the collaborative atmosphere within the company?

He guessed that probably no more than once a year would be necessary to really bring everybody back into a team mode, where they were all enthusiastic participants.

People often have high hopes from team building exercises.

When I caught up with the same executive after a few months, I asked how the team collaboration was going. And he was exasperated.

So I asked him: “Has the enthusiasm waned?”

He said: “No, it hasn’t waned. However, while we are all very enthusiastic about working with each other and we all have extremely good intentions of collaborating and passing on the information to each other and not hoarding knowledge, we don’t quite seem to jell with each other.”

“We are spending a lot of money on getting culture right now. We have had culture surveys within the company, we have had numerous sessions on leadership and cultural adjustments as well as several team building exercises on Friday afternoons. Everyone is fired up, but somehow things don’t seem to jell.”

Hope is not enough…

“We all agree that we will put our people first. Our leadership very enthusiastically endorsed a benevolent culture within the company and our people are putting our customers first, there is no doubt about that either. Yet somehow all these good intentions, collaborative attitudes, leadership attributes and helpful cultural mores are not translating into profits. We don’t know what to do.”

I said: “Perhaps, these things take time to translate into profits or into concrete results.”

And my friend seemed to think that there was probably a missing ingredient here.

He explained to me that good intentions by themselves would not translate into good results simply by trial and error.

Good methods are equally important.

I concurred and we started talking about good methods.

We came up with two by two metrics with intentions on the vertical axis and methods on the horizontal. And four squares which combined to form good intentions and good methods into good results which was the top right square. And bad intentions and bad methods leading to abysmal results which was the bottom left square.

Global Supply Chain Group

The other two squares were average as elsewhere: good intentions met with bad methods or good methods met with bad intentions. Next, we started putting a variety of methods and intentions into these squares to see what really created the results and came up with a diagram as shown below:

No doubt, the good intentions do not translate into good results automatically. It would be a hugely erroneous assumption that just because people want to collaborate and work with each other, and they have good leadership skills, they have good communication skills, they are willing to share information, they are willing to take on extra tasks, they are willing to help and smile at the customers; all these will automatically translate into good profits.

Similarly, good methods: no matter how good your IT systems are, how good your processes are, how good your supply chain is, how good your collaborative mechanisms are,  if the intentions are bad, they are not going to translate into good results; because at some stage bad intentions will come and kill the effectiveness of the method itself.

From good intentions…

Good Intentions Must be Translated into Good Results - Using Good Methods

SeatedBuddhaGandhara2ndCentury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what are some of the things that create good intentions?

Obviously, the kind of team building exercise that my friend was describing was an extremely powerful tool to create good intentions within the company.

But that is not the only way good intentions can start from top management team. Every good leader instinctively knows how to get his team on the same page working their hardest, putting in their best effort, contributing their best possible effort.

Many companies are now focusing quite deeply on the corporate culture. Corporate psychologists, organizational design specialists and even corporate mindfulness experts have all stepped in and done extensive work on coaching, mentoring and guiding the executives to align their intentions with the corporate strategy.

Yes, I know there is still a lot of hypocrisy and yes, there is still a lot of cynicism lying beneath some of these new age techniques, where a number of executives will go through the exercises with a half-cynical mind-set buried underneath a veneer of smiling face.

Yet, I believe just the motions of going through these exercises change the physiology which eventually does start changing the psychology as a result.

However, I agree with my friend that despite all these good intentions, cultural adjustments, team building exercises, leadership trainings, corporate mindfulness exercises, corporate welfare and other means of fostering good intentions within the company, the results are still mixed.

…To good results

When we did our longitudinal study of more than 1,200 top corporations in the world over the period of six years (2007-2013), we noticed that among the top 50 corporations there were a number of surprises.

Several companies that were not known, either for their good intentions or for their attention to corporate culture, were performing extremely well simply because they married the good intentions with good methods.

So what are the good methods that we are talking about here?

Obviously, good methods keep developing every few years.

At one stage, not too long ago, it was a revelation in marketing when somebody thought: why do we have to market the same way every customer? Why don’t we segment the markets and customise the marketing message to each and every market segment? That was in the late 70s.

Since then, good methods have developed at a very rapid pace.

In the 1980’s Michael Porter wrote his book on competitive advantage and created a stir with three simple strategies of cost leadership, of differentiation and niche strategies.

But since then companies have learned to create a supply chain and then to create a differentiated supply chain for each one of the market segments.

And then further on, to create a supply network or a business network in such a way that companies are now working with other companies to collaboratively create products faster at a more profitable rate, to meet the need of their customers.

I have no doubt that good methods will continue to evolve in future.

If you want to read more about good methods, here are a few articles that you can browse at your leisure.

How to defend against boycott with a strong business network

A Better Method To Outsource And Win

How SUPPLY CHAIN 3.0 Can Lead To Tangible Business Benefits (Part 6 of 6)

Learning – A Company Case Study

By – Stuart Emmett

Executive Summary

A questionnaire was used to explore feelings and experiences of students undertaking a company management development qualification programme. The questionnaire examined four areas

  • Why Learn?
  • Learning experiences
  • Reflections on learning
  • Learning styles

The questionnaire results are detailed in this report (shown as the strengths and weaknesses) The message for companies is they must:

  • Build on the strengths found by individuals
  • Recognise the reality of the weaknesses and proactively manage them into strengths

Companies must recognise the conditions for effective learning and building these into all leadership, management, learning and development practices and programmes.

The Learning Programme

This was a company learning programme for management development; this involved students working to achieve a nationally recognised professional qualification at the current equivalent of a NQF level six in Supply Chain Management.

The Questionnaire

In order to examine the learning processes used, a questionnaire was designed to explore a range of questions about the feelings and experiences of students. This questionnaire examined the following four areas: –

  1. Questions on the reasons why students wanted to study for the qualification.
  2. Questions on students experiences whilst they were completing their studies.
  3. Questions on reflection about their studies
  4. Questions on students learning styles

(1) Results-Why learn?

The results showed various reasons why they wanted to learn. Many different responses were given, (this, however, maybe in part due to the open nature, of the questionnaire). It was very clear however, that the main reason for wanting to learn was to increase knowledge and understanding. Other reasons given were to make life more interesting, to meet other people etc. Similarly, the question about the students intended outcome had also mixed responses, but the majority however; indicated the prize was the gaining of a qualification. Other responses indicated were, to make progress, to be able to apply and use the qualification.

(2) Results-Learning Experiences

Whilst undertaking studies most students reported that they were able to use their existing experience and knowledge during the programme. Half of the students felt they had learnt a lot, whilst the other half felt they had learnt something. 25 per cent of students felt they were given no guidance at all, on how to learn. 87 per cent of students reported receiving feedback during the programme. 75 per cent of students were very clear that no formal support had been given at work, despite, a formal mentoring programme being set up at the start by the company using senior and line managers. Clearly this had not been effective. When asked further about their support network, around half of the students had received informal help/support at work. They also had a support network from other people; indeed all students said they were helped in this later way. Finally, all students felt they had opportunity whilst learning, to think and reflect, and make conclusions about their learning. 75 per cent of students also felt they had opportunity, to use what they had learnt.

(3) Results-“Reflections”

In thinking back about the learning experience, the main problem students identified was finding the time. This is also reflected by a few students reporting the main time problem for them, was working shifts. In answering the question about how students had overcome their study problems, students were, generally and remarkably, non-committal. Some of the ways however reported on overcoming problems were; for example, making time, having perseverance, and using holiday time. When asked why some people might choose to drop out of the learning, mixed responses were found, but the responses made were mainly about lack of motivation, no support, no time, and finally, getting behind and then getting depressed. The main reasons reported for keeping going were not to let down colleagues and others in the group. Clearly, a group-training format had also supported the individuals questioned. Learning was felt to be important to students and their responses were: “develops” me, gives me a challenge, expanded the mind, allows me to see the bigger picture, and, keeps the mind fresh. Students had clear views about what they needed to do to be better learners and responses mainly included having a more disciplined approach plus, concentrating more on the planning of study time and to listening without prejudice.

(4) Results-Learning Style

On learning styles students were equally divided with their self-perceptions and fell between equally between being visual / seeing learners, and being experiencing / doing learners. Furthermore, the majority felt that they were activists and would try anything once.

Results-Summary

In putting together the strengths and weaknesses from the questionnaire results, the following is a summary: Strengths were as follows

  • Students have clear reasons for doing the programme.
  • Programme builds on existing knowledge.
  • Provides feedback.
  • Good informal support network.
  • Able to use what has been the learnt.
  • Group peer pressure/support.

Weaknesses

were as follows:

  • Lacking guidance on how to learn
  • No formal support network at work
  • Finding time to complete the assessments
  • Lack of clarity on how to overcome the learning problems
  • Many reasons for dropping out
  • Undisciplined learning approach

Messages for companies

It will be seen that individual students were motivated, had informal learning support and were able to use what they learnt; all these are good strengths for companies to build on. Companies can however recognise the weaknesses reported by students and be pro-active to manage these. Learning lessons here are for the provision of:

  • Formal guidance on learning
  • Formal support networks
  • Time for assessments
  • Encouraging a disciplined learning approach.

Support and guidance (both formal and informal) is critical in learning. The students above clearly had informal support, but no formal support. How therefore support is accounted for, planned for, and actually undertaken is a “must” to be considered by all companies who sponsor learning.

Effective Learning Conditions

For learning to be effective, the following learning conditions are needed:

  • Gaining attention and motivating.
  • Giving the expected outcome.
  • Stimulating recall by using past knowledge.
  • Developing new opportunities.
  • Getting learners responses.
  • Giving learning guidance.
  • Giving feedback.
  • Appraising performance.
  • Providing for transferability.
  • Ensuring retention and encourage practice.

There is much above that shows the importance of giving support and guidance to individuals who are practicing learning. The following are some examples of how to do this:

  • Motivating = encourage and support, continually
  • Develop new opportunities = ask “how can I help”
  • Learning guidance = provide how to learn courses/discussions/self help groups/ study buddies etc
  • Feedback = say “well done”
  • Appraising =ask “how can I help you to develop”
  • Transferability = create opportunities to use and apply the learning

It should not be difficult to help and support employees learn. When doing this, a company demonstrates that it believes that learning really matters.

This report is based on:

“Improving Learning & for Individuals & Companies,” 2002, ISBN 1-90429-831-1

“How to Mentor and Support Learning,” 2003, ISBN 1-90429-865-6

“The Learning Toolkit” 2008, ISBN 978-1-852525-620 “The Developing People Toolkit”, 2008, ISBN 978-1-852525-651

All written by Stuart Emmett, after spending over 30 years in commercial private sector service industries, working in the UK and in Nigeria, I then moved into Training. This was associated with the, then, Institute of Logistics and Distribution Management (now the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport). After being a Director of Training for nine years, I then chose to become a freelance independant mentor/coach, trainer, and consultant. This built on my past operational and strategic experience and my particular interest in the “people issues” of management processes. Link for the blog: http://www.learnandchange.com/freestuff_23.html  

Note:  Stuart Emmett co-operated with our very own Vivek Sood to co-write the book GREEN SUPPLY CHAINS – AN ACTION MANIFESTO. This book was one of the first books in the world on the topic of Green Supply Chains, and as such is used in Universities around the world for executive training and research purposes.

Challenging Leadership Principles

By Stuart Emmett 

This article puts over what I see as essential leadership principles. They are taken from my book “The Leadership Gospels” (2008) that uses as the key source, the gospels; the gospels being the reporting by four people (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) of the words and actions of the founder and leader of Christianity, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the foundation of a world changing movement that grew during its founder’s short life and went on to multiply after his death into one of the world’s largest group of followers. Indeed one definition of a leader is that you can tell them by their followers as a leader cannot exist or be a leader without followers. Two thousand years later, the Christian movement continues. So my premise is that its leader must have said something enduring and therefore by examining his reported words, then there must be many leadership principles that all leaders can learn from and benefit from. My approach was therefore to go through the Gospels, principally Matthew, and select those words of Jesus that have some relevance to leadership and management principles. Next, the leadership principles were extracted. These are identified below.

Leadership Keys:

  • Leadership and change are directly connected
  • Leaders bring in a new order and shift the paradigm
  • Leaders need a “servant heart” that gives, rather than takes
  • Leaders must be clear on whom/what they are and stand for, as it is this inner side will drive what they say and do
  • Leaders have to attract followers
  • Leaders will not always find a “fit” with every person and will be often criticised
  • Leaders use a vision/mission statement; (money as the main principle is a wrong one)

Leadership Style:

  • Leaders show by example: “come with me and I will teach you” and in effect, they will also recruit their own replacement.
  • Leaders have a bold and decisive presence: they practice “walking in front” and literally will pull and lead people. They will not be a bully that forces people, or, be one who pushes and “kicks from behind.”
  • Leaders correct mistakes with people one on one; if the mistakes cannot be rectified then they need to “go public.” If it still cannot be rectified, then they will need to treat the person as not being a part of the “team.”
  • Leaders use strong and direct communication and say it like they see it. This means accepting that inevitably, some will think they are being rude. To communicate the most effectively, face to face contact is needed as it is body language that really communicates; (eye contact is the most revealing part of body language).
  • Leaders trust: This means an acceptance that the lack of trust will usually destroy any relationship between people; no trust, then, no relationship.

Leadership Roles:

  • Planning is needed to give the desired results; inputs give outputs, they are connected directly. Leaders know their people and recognise that people will use different methods and therefore, some methods in certain circumstances, may be more appropriate than others.
  • Leaders select the appropriate number of people for the team
  • Leaders give clear directions to the team
  • Leaders need to give power and authority to the leadership team
  • Followers need motivating to do things and when people are motivated with a compulsive internal drive, they can be unstoppable, as the only motivation that will ever last, is one that satisfies a core internally held value/belief.

For reasons explained in the book, I also felt that the following were important Leadership Essentials

  • People make the financial differences in any organisation, therefore people must be as the main driver (and not money) of any organisation
  • Culture counts as “the way we do things round here” must be consciously considered and the right choices made.
  • Managers can display characteristics of leaders; leaders are not just the “top team”. Leaders need followers who may be managers, but then these managers will need to lead their own people (and will be seen by their people as a leader); and so it is passed on.

In the book I have added my own words to amplify these principles. This amplification examines what needs to be done and how it can be done. It shows how to roll down the principles into current management applications so that these principles can then be readily applied in business and organisational practices. Some of the above principles are straight forward and are common sense. However whilst they are sense, they are often not too common. Additionally many of them are quite challenging. The servant heart one was interesting and I speculate that there are many people who whilst having a leader job title, will not actually see their role in this way. This may be due to the current role confusion between leaders and managers, for example the job title Team Leader is commonly used yet; we rarely find titles of Team Managers or Team Supervisors. Additionally, we can find that some former supervisor titles have been changed to become Team Leaders as this is more “sexy” and sound better. The current outworking when using either a leader or a manager title is more towards making the leader as being the best one, the superior one and the one that has the higher status. Maybe however a servant heart, is perhaps not one that is seen as “sexy” or deserving status in many organisations?

All written by Stuart Emmett,

after spending over 30 years in commercial private sector service industries, working in the UK and in Nigeria, I then moved into Training. This was associated with the, then, Institute of Logistics and Distribution Management (now the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport). After being a Director of Training for nine years, I then chose to become a freelance independant mentor/coach, trainer, and consultant. This built on my past operational and strategic experience and my particular interest in the “people issues” of management processes.

Link for the blog: http://www.learnandchange.com/freestuff_23.html  

Note:  Stuart Emmett co-operated with our very own Vivek Sood to co-write the book GREEN SUPPLY CHAINS – AN ACTION MANIFESTO. This book was one of the first books in the world on the topic of Green Supply Chains, and as such is used in Universities around the world for executive training and research purposes.

Empowerment and Email

Stuart Emmettby Stuart Emmett

I am fed up with a lot of organisations.

Is it just me?

Do others find too many simple basic mistakes are being made these days by organisations? These mistakes are also being repeated many times and do not seem to get corrected.

Why is this?

One of my theories is that, email is the means to create the mistakes whilst the expected end result is empowerment.

Let me amplify.

These days external connection is possible to most internal levels within an organisation.

The power of the internet can deliver messages to anyone.

Those receiving emails are now able to handle and deal direct with customer requests.

And by “empowerment” this will also enable decision making at any level.

People are now therefore able to take decisions and deal direct with queries.

Now clearly there are numerous advantages to this, but there are some disadvantages also. My fear is that these disadvantages may be getting camouflaged and disguised by the use of emails and by the aura of empowerment.

It is fine allowing decisions to be taken at low levels, but these have to be correct ones and have to be taken responsibly. They can now also be taken invisibly to the senior management. Therefore when decisions are wrong, the consequences may not be apparent. The result can then be a spiral of confusion and frustration. Those on the receiving end may have little chance for recourse or correction of handed down decisions that have been wrongly taken (and effectively taken sub optimally).

Another result is that some customers at the receiving end will “walk,” others will complain to “deaf ears,” and some may report their displeasure to senior management; however senior management may be dismissive as “we do not have this problem with others”.

The fact is they do have problems, but it has become invisible to senior management who in their desire to empower junior staff, have made themselves separate from what is really going on in the organisation.

How do we prevent this?

Simply by returning to a principle of management visibility

Good managers are supposed to keep kept their fingers on the pulse. Requests from and responses to customers should be seen. Support and guidance should be given to junior staff when required. A manager must ensure they know exactly what is happening in their department and they must delegate effectively whilst retaining accountability and responsibility.

Why cannot this be done? Why do we allow email to “bypass” such best practice?

It now it seems with email and empowerment, that whilst the “e” can certainly stand for efficiency, it does not always stand for effectiveness.

Efficiency is however found as messages are quickly dealt with, however non effectiveness is found as the correct result does not always follow. So we are maybe doing the right things, we are not always doing it right.

But worst of all, what is being done maybe invisible to those who can change things. However it is clearly visible to those customers who walk.

Is it just me who is fed up?

Ps: for those great organisations that do not do the above; well done and thank you!

Stuart Emmett

After spending over 30 years in commercial private sector service industries, working in the UK and in Nigeria, I then moved into Training. This was associated with the, then, Institute of Logistics and Distribution Management (now the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport). After being a Director of Training for nine years, I then chose to become a freelance independent mentor/coach, trainer, and consultant. This built on my past operational and strategic experience and my particular interest in the “people issues” of management processes.

Link for the blog: http://www.learnandchange.com/freestuff_23.html

 

Note:  Stuart Emmett co-operated with our very own Vivek Sood to co-write the book GREEN SUPPLY CHAINS – AN ACTION MANIFESTO. This book was one of the first books in the world on the topic of Green Supply Chains, and as such is used in Universities around the world for executive training and research purposes.

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