Are you Getting the Gifts?

Initiative, creativity and passion are gifts.

They are benefactions that employees choose, day by day and moment by moment, to give or withhold.

They cannot be commanded.

Gary Hamel – The Future of Management

Nor can they be bought.

You can’t get these gifts from employees by challenging them to work harder.

Nor by exhorting them to ‘beat the competition’ or ‘care for the customers’.

You will only get these gifts from employees when you give them a purpose that merits their best.

WOW – Watch Out for the Whelmers…

Watch Out for the Whelmer Vampire

Chip Conley has written a great book called PEAK – How great companies get their mojo from Maslow. In it he gives grave warning of the dangers of whelmers.

According to Chip there are three types of recruit in your organisation.

There are the over-whelmers – those people that ‘over-whelm’ you with their energy, skill, passion and enthusiasm. These people are what you need. They provide the foundations on which excellent can be built. However you will need to work hard, very hard, to recruit and retain them. These people have choices about where they work – so why should they choose to stick with you?

Then there are the under-whelmers – those that leave you distinctly unimpressed. According to Chip these don’t constitute a real problem either – because they are easily recognised and managed. As a consequence they either perform or get fired. I only wish it were this simple – but I do get the point. Under performance is easily recognised and can then be managed if you have the courage and commitment to do so.

The real dangers are those people that neither over nor under whelm. These are the whelmers. Their work is OK without being great. Customers are satisfied without being thrilled. Colleagues have kind of got used to the mediocrity. And the over-whelmers will not want to be any where near them as they sap energy and enthusiasm. They are passion vampires.

And this is the pernicious culture killer – mediocrity. If the whelmers are allowed to carve out a quiet life of mediocrity they will drag the culture of your organisation down to their level.

In the words of the legendary Van Morrison:

“You gotta fight every day to keep mediocrity at bay”.

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.

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’.


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?

Urgency and Influence: The Role of the Manager in Uncertain Times

The news is full of ‘sub-prime crises’ and ‘credit crunches’.  Whether we are on the edge of a real recession, or just talking ourselves into one, I am not sure – but either way it is sensible to prepare for rougher times ahead.

Heading for the Storm

At these times good managers know how to develop a sense of urgency in the organisation to make sure it is ‘battened down’ when the storm hits. They set deadlines, chase progress and generally tighten up on both effectiveness and efficiency. By making sure that everyone is engaged in ‘doing something’ they manage to keep morale high and opportunities to wallow in self-pity to a minimum. They develop contingency plans, including drastic measures such as redundancies should they be necessary.
The very best managers maintained this sense of urgency when the waters were calm and progress was good.  They truly were making hay while the sun shone.  The focus of the urgency in such times should be more strategic:

  • building high performing teams and cultures – capable of creating more value at lower cost than the competition – through recruitment, development and retention
  • scanning the environment to see where the next storms are brewing and plotting the best course available
  • building customer loyalty and commitment so that the customer base is retained when things get rough

The average and the great manager are also separated, in my book, at least by the way that they handle the whole concept of influence and control. The average manager looks on tough times as ‘just one of those things’ that ‘we will get through somehow’. They become almost passive, certainly defensive, victims of the economic downturn, just trying to keep the wheels in motion until ‘things pick up’.The very best managers have a story to tell and a plan to put in place that will give the organisation every chance of coming through unscathed.  They actively manage the situation and ensure that everyone is engaged in looking for ways to drive up value and reduce costs.  Managers who have been using 121s effectively for a while will find they really come into their own as they can help to dispel rumours and keep everyone focused on the required objectives.

Thinking strategically; flies, bees, pike and shoulder blades

Most strategy training talks about the importance of developing a strategic plan and then aligning employees with the strategy.   This is an outmoded view of strategy.  I prefer to see strategy as a thinking and doing process – with the focus on achieving success tomorrow – rather than today.  Many managers struggle to find the time to do this strategic thinking and find it even harder to act strategically.

Learning from Mr Pike

The pike is one of the most efficient, lean predating machines in freshwater.  If you put a small pike in an aquarium with a bunch of minnows it will demonstrate its predatory skills with frightening efficiency.  If you separate the pike from the minnows using a sheet of perspex the pike will continue to launch its attacks for a little while.  And then it will just give up.  You can then remove the sheet of perspex and the pike will still believe that it can no longer catch its prey – and will simply starve to death.

Flies and Bees

Imagine putting half a dozen house flies and half a dozen bumble bees in  glass bottle.  The bottle is placed with its base towards a window and the open end towards the middle of the room.  The bees are strategically aligned to fly towards the sunlight.  The presence of the glass is a mystery to them.  They buzz and buzz away at the bottom of the glass driving towards the sunshine – until they too die.  The flies on the other hand are much less ‘strategically aligned’.  They fly in far more random patterns and within a few minutes most of them will have found their way to freedom.

Native Americans and Cracked Shoulder Blades

Some native American tribes used to use shoulder blades to help them plan their hunt.  The night before the hunt would leave they would throw a shoulder blade from a buffalo or deer on the camp fire.  In the morning the bone would have a pattern of cracks caused by the heat of the fire.  The pattern of these cracks – which was essentially random would be used to indicate to the hunting party in which direction they should seek their quarry.  So why would they rely on such a random way of choosing their hunting grounds?  Because without using a randomiser like this they would tend to over work the most productive hunting grounds and threaten the sustainability of the tribe and its environment.

These three stories illustrate something about the nature of strategy and strategic thinking – the perils of over specialisation, the risks of alignment, the problems of holding on to outdated learning and the importance of diversity and randomisation.  I am sure that analysis and planning have their place – but it is thinking and acting strategically that creates real value.

World Environment Day

PMN member Adam Woodhall is running a workshop to mark World Environment Day on June 5th. Environmental Action… Everybody’s Business: Take action on World Environment Day, 5 June. Registration & refreshments: 9am. Workshop 9.30 – 1pm. Leeds City Centre.

Workshop Details