Management Lessons from Frazer Irving

Had the privilege of attending my first Creative Networks event at Leeds College of Art.  Frazer Irving – a wonderful illustrator talked about his career – from which I took the following:

  1. the seeds of your future are often sown early
  2. just because it sells does not mean it is good – heroin is not better than tofu – even if it does shift more units
  3. provoke, invoke, evoke
  4. 5 years of crappy jobs and being on the dole – being on the dole were the ‘happy days’
  5. ideas burning on the inside
  6. managers/editors can leave you with tears streaming down your face and your soul ripped out and thrown on the floor
  7. the bad times provide the fuel and drive to allow the good
  8. an incessant streak of optimism helps – on being rejected by judges in a portrait competition Frazer chose to believe it was because he wasn’t important – although it might have been because I wasn’t very good
  9. it takes a lot of time, training, passion and life experience to really master your subject
  10. great technology combined with great passion and skills produce remarkable, beautiful and important results
  11. sometimes you need someone to say ‘chin up – you will be alright’
  12. sometimes when your art is ripped off it gets you great new gigs – life-changing breaks…
  13. be a slave to the muse – let the story dictate the style
  14. it is really about finding out who you are and what you can become
  15. treat me as a ‘pencil monkey’ and you will get mediocrity
  16. in the comic world a lot of bad product is there because of poor management – comics and every other industry on the planet – management is perfectly evolved to get the results it gets
  17. if it is bad it is (nearly always) because the managers/editors have put the wrong people on the job
  18. if you have recruited the wrong people then forcing them to compromise WILL lead to mediocrity
  19. recruit great talent carefully and then trust it do deliver on its own terms – not yours
  20. when your hobby becomes your job – you get another hobby
  21. musicians jam and sometimes the results are great – what is the jamming equivalent for you?
  22. be careful about your reputation – one person saying you migh tnot hit a deadline in a public forum can be a killer
  23. sometimes it is best not to claim the credit for all your ideas
  24. it really is full of ups and downs – but you come out of the downs with even more resources – psychological and technical if not financial

This was a great networking event – convival atmosphere – great facilities – good food – great speakers and good managment.

If only all networking opportunities were this good!

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Managing for an Entrepreneurial Culture

Organisations fall somewhere on the spectrum between bureaucratic and entrepreneurial.

The bureaucratic end of the spectrum is characterised by control, compliance and dependence.  Dependence on the boss to come up with the right plan at the right time. In the bureaucracy we do as we are told.  In the bureaucracy advancement comes from compliance and avoiding failure.

The entrepreneurial end is characterised by influence, innovation and autonomy.  Relationships are used to broker agreements about what the priorities are rather than waiting for top brass to decide.  Decision making is a much more even split between the front-line and management.  It is real-time rather than locked into a plan.  Advancement comes from understanding context and making the right calls for the business – not from playing it safe.

For me, 121s are all about shifting towards a more entrepreneurial organisational culture.  Where everyone is forced to think every week – “what are the priorities?”, “how do I feel about them” and “what support do I need to deliver on the things that really matter for the business”.

These are great questions to help people to stay in touch with what they are all about – and how that fits with the organisation and its mission.  And employees who are in touch with these things are likely to bring passion, creativity, energy and commitment to the workplace.

Connecting with a Vision

This post first appeared on my other blog ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Community‘ but I have reproduced it here because it contains some insights on working with ‘Vision’ that are relevant to the progressive manager.  Apologies to those of you who have got it for the second time!

Our Vision for Leeds is an internationally competitive European city at the heart of a prosperous region where everyone can enjoy a high quality of life.

Leeds Initiative Vision for Leeds – 2004 2020

That must seem like a pretty distant vision for many Leeds residents.  For the tens of thousands that are living on incapacity benefits.  For those who have no job.  For those who work in the third sector and are more interested in social justice than international competitiveness.  For parents who are struggling to raise and educate their children.  For pensioners. For migrants and refugees.

But the problem is not with the vision per se.  The problem lies with the capacity available to help a very wide range of people and communities to connect with it.  To understand why it is relevant to them and how it can help them to make progress on their agenda.  How it can help them find a sense of belonging in a Leeds community that is striving to make ‘progress’.

For a vision to be effective a wide range of stakeholders have to be able to connect with it and make sense of it in their own context, and then to use it to leverage action – to make things happen.  Otherwise it is just words.  I suspect it is no accident that this ‘Vision for Leeds’ appeals so directly to the white collar community, to the developers and the investors.  To those that have power shall be given more.

Visions can help to pull us towards a more attractive future, but only if they are relevant to us and are dripping with possibilities for action.

In the world of organisational and business development the ‘Vision backlash’ has started.  Instead of dreaming of distant possibilities those leading the backlash ask:

  • ‘What is it that we are on the verge of becoming?’,
  • ‘How, at this time, is it possible that we could change?’

This ‘emergence’ based on a process of ‘presencing’ (understanding the ‘here and now’ and then acting to tip the balance in favour of progress) honours the past as much as the future. It ensures that the future is rooted in the strengths and cultures of the past.  It encourages placemaking based on history as much as on the future.  And this matters because it is the history that has shaped us all.  Our cultures, our psyches our potentials and our preferences.  Development that honours who we are, what we have become and what we believe it is possible for us to be.

Perhaps we should compliment the Vision with a real understanding of what we have the potential to become – not by 2020 – but right now.

Alien versus Predator 2; Profit taking versus social enterprise

“For a profit maximising company, the bottom line is how much money you make. But when you run a social business, it’s about impact.”

Mohammed Younis

For a publicly listed company there is a legal obligation on the Board of Directors to act in a way that will maximise the return on investment to shareholders i.e. profit.

For any shareholders who seek a long term return on their investment – rather than quarterly profit taking – then ‘impact’ (net ‘good done’ in the community as the result of the company’s actions) will be more or less synonymous with profit.  In a perfect world, companies that do bad things in the name of profit will only derive those profits in the short term.

Every company I have ever worked in (I have not worked in any PLCs but have worked in profit and non-profit distributing businesses) there has been a real concern both for social impact and for making a sound return on investment.

The sense of dynamic balance has been vital.  It is not profit making OR social impact but profit taking AND social impact that leads to sustained progress.

We can shun the tyranny of “OR” and embrace the genius of “AND” – there is a yin/yang dynamic; a Zen type ambiguity that can be used creatively.

In my experience it was the companies that traded profitably and used those profits transparently and accountably to ensure the sustainable development of the company and is employees that were able to do their best work in the long term.  In the ‘non profits’ too often the development of the business was entirely hi-jacked by the whims of funders and policy makers.

It is possible to find profitable ways to make the world a better place.

People are our Most Important Asset…

That is the ‘espoused’ theory in just about every business I have EVER worked in or consulted for. It says it on the web site and in the annual report so it must be true.

But the theory in practice is usually a very different one.

  • People are a controllable cost
  • People are interchangeable parts – just fulfilling job descriptions
  • ‘Good people’ require little or no management time (“You want me to spend 30 minutes a week looking after our most important asset? Don’t you know I’ve got problems to sort out…Any way they know what they are doing and wnat me getting in the way…”)
  • ‘Mediocre people’ require little or no management time (“They do a decent job – as long as I don’t expect them to take initiative, make things better or use their common sense”).
  • ‘Bad people’ eat up hours of management time (“I have to be on their backs all the time – the problem is that you can’t sack anyone in this organisation…”)

This theory in action is a little bit like the moonwalking bear. Unless you look for it you won’t know its there.

Sorting out these problems requires a bit of structure, some commitment and a fair bit of courage.

Understanding Your Organisation – Part 2 – Strains

In my first post in Understanding your Organisation I presented a really simple image that helps to understand the relationship between strategy (concerned with future well-being), operations (concerned with the delivery of service/product to current customers) and management as the function that integrates strategy and operations. Scarily simple – but I have found it to be a powerful framework for understanding organisations of all sorts – and for quickly spotting the root cause of under-performance.

Customers, Operations, Strategy and Management

I have found several different types of problem using this simple model. Firstly we have what I call the ‘Destruction of Management’. This is caused by the different priorities and drives of operations and strategy. The Ops folks are focused on systems and processes that are designed to service current customers efficiently and effectively. They are fiercely ‘customer facing’ and push management for time and other resources to improve current operations to meet customer needs. All well and good. Just as it should be. Their perspective can be described as predominantly looking ‘inward’ (how do we improve what we have got) and down – towards the front-line.

Now the strategy folks have a different set of interests. They are interested in the art of possibility.

  • Who could we be serving?
  • What could we be making?

Their eyes are set on the technology and markets of the future. They are fiercely ‘future’ and ‘change’ oriented. Their perspective can be described as outward (what is happening ‘out there’ – technology, market demographics, prices etc) and forward looking (how do we get what we need in terms of knowledge, technology and processes to compete in the future?). They pressure management to dedicate resources to bringing this new future a step closer.

So management is caught between operations pulling ‘inward and down’ and strategy pulling ‘forward and out’.

OUCH!

Destruction of Management

Most management finds it difficult to resolve these tensions between strategy and operations.

In some organisations the strategy folks win (they usually have more positional power in the organisation) and the ops teams become jaded and cynical as they are asked to engage with strategic initiative after strategic initiative – continually engaging in change that rarely seems to make things better in the ‘here and now’ – and often pulls them away from doing good work at the front-line. They start to seriously doubt whether anyone in the boardroom really knows what the business is about.

In other organisations the strategy side is very weak and the organisation becomes myopically focused on the ‘here and now’.

In other organisations (and in my experience this is the most common situation) both strategy and operations are relatively powerful forces in the organisation and management is just not strong enough to hold the forces together. Neither great operational improvements nor insightful strategy gets executed as ‘weak’ management uses the opposing forces to negotiate a mediocre status quo.

  • How do these strains play out in your organisation?
  • What steps can you take to ensure that progress is made both operationally and strategically?

Maslow on Management

 

Maslow on Management

First published back in the 1960s Eupsychian Management made neither the best sellers list nor the bookshelves in airports and railway stations. In fact it barely sold its first modest print run. No doubt this was in part because the business book industry had yet to take off, and in part because of his obscure choice of title. Re-published as ‘Maslow on Management‘ almost 40 years later it seems to be creating a bit more of a stir.

Maslow was one of the the fathers of ‘Third Force’ or ‘Humanistic Growth’ psychology. (First force psychology was that of the Freudians and Jungians; second force was that of the behaviourists – Skinner and his pigeons.) Third force or human growth psychology was developed by Freud, Rogers, Fromm, Adler and Maslow as a serious attempt to understand human potential and how it can best be realised.

In the early 1960s Maslow spent a summer observing life in a business and maintained a journal that reflected his observations and thoughts on  the practice of management and the relevance of third force psychology to the world of commerce – and vice versa. This journal became ‘Maslow on Management‘.

Maslow was a contemporary of Drucker and one of the things he found was that much of what Drucker had written about effective and efficient management as a theorist and consultant with no psychological training was aligned with Maslow’s own thinking. Management theory and Third Force Psychology converged on a set of ‘truths’ about management and the realisation of human potential – individual, team organisational and social. Wow!

As Maslow said:

…this is not about new management tricks or gimmicks or superficial techniques that can be used to manipulate human beings more efficiently. Rather it is a clear confrontation of one basic set of orthodox values by another newer system of values that claims to be both more efficient and more true. It draws on some of the truly revolutionary consequences of the discovery that human nature has been sold short.