Just Seven Things

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Archive for the tag “Strategy”

Strategy as Stress Survival

Nearly thirty years ago the Thomsons sold out of print newspapers, selling The Times and The Sunday Times to Murdoch. In 2007 they sold their college textbooks arm for a $2bn premium, making an offer for Reuters with the proceeds in the same month Murdoch increased its newspapers exposure with its bid for Dow Jones.

The FT’s article (30/12/09, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson) exploring family businesses and long-term strategic decision-making also highlights the importance of paranoia and values in business leadership.

Without long-term planning and the projection of risk exposures, a company cannot look to add value over time. Past this management speak though, a healthy self-awareness and translation of leadership team stress, paranoia and questioning into strategy evaluation and revision/ actions is fundamental.

Allan Leighton (sits on several boards, inc. Selfridges and BSkyB) is quoted in another FT article (6/1/10, Judgment Call – What is the right attitude for leaders to take this year?):

‘Stay close to the detail of your business, worry frequently, don’t be complacent, and look after your people. Survive and thrive.’

‘Business needs to adapt to the new realities and get on with driving momentum, being proactive and looking for ways to keep edging forward, remembering that flat is often the new up’

Strong leadership is not a one person game. The leader – in position because of knowing what those who would be led need to be led – drives both the momentum and the action, but should also drive the questioning. Historic decisions of even the last month should be re-challenged in light of all current data and experience.

The fulfilment of the mission and big hairy audacious goals should provide the direction and framework; this should equate with the company’s best ability to deliver total stakeholder return over time (defined in both monetary and non-monetary terms).

What happens day to day, week to week and month to month should be guided by a clear bridling of your stress and paranoia as a leadership team in pursuit of the right strategic decision-making/ revision-making.

Continually switching strategies or strategic procastination/ incontinence are both unacceptable. Continually questioning yourself and whether you are doing the right things now – based on your business values – to achieve your long-term mission, is a necessity.

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Is Traditional Corporate Leadership Fundamentally Flawed?

Pyramid Restoration by Dyoptria

Pyramid Restoration by Dyoptria

I was struck today with the thought that the traditional corporate structure has a fundamental flaw. This flaw relates to its ability to harness the power of its peoples’ ideas.

I may be wrong, but it seems that the traditional corporate structure is predicated on the workers doing the doing, the managers doing the managing and the CEO/ Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) (with Board consultation and expenditure on consultants) doing the thinking.

The flaw for me is that unless the CEO/ CSO spends time directly talking to the people doing the doing, they’ll only ever be hearing from the managers managing the same thing they’ve always managed (with the expected change/ transformation that all corporates go through)

Where are the structures for the CEO to actively ask the questions of the people who perform the company’s activities and (arguably) are the best people to advise on how things are done better?

Is bringing in a firm of consultants to ask your staff for the answers the best investment of shareholder funds? Will the consultants end up filtering the message to what they ‘corporately anticipate’ the Board want to hear? I do not (totally) mean to be unfair to consultants in this in terms of their value add and business model in strategic decision-making – thinking independently is always of benefit.

Further to this, I believe that the aggregation of the average messages or required actions is also a structural flaw. If you seek to hear the ‘noise’ of an issue and prioritise action/ change on that basis, you’re by definition missing the silent issues or improvement opportunities. It does not bear testing to assume that in a sophisticated organisation of client or process focused roles that any broader ‘noise’ can be heard past questioning the lowest levels of the organisation.

I run recurring six monthly reviews with every member of the company (granted only 75 now: scale will require solutions). We spend half an hour and I ask them whether, beyond things that they’re working on with their line manager, there are things that I could enable or effect change on that would increase their happiness/ role enjoyment/ enjoyment of the company. Even in a situation where they are completely happy, I push them on how I could make them even happier. I also take the whole team away every six months and similarly we work up (and on) the things that we should be stopping, starting or continuing. My senior managers are not involved in guiding these conversations. Just facilitating.

As you would expect from the tone of the rest of this post, the stuff that they come up with is brilliant. I end up with pages worth of actions. And why? Because each of them has time whilst doing their job to think about how they could improve the activities of the company that they are undertaking. Managers think about how they can get better managing. So in act the CEO and the front line team are the ones that should be having the regular 121 conversations.

…but how to practically do this?

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