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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Wondering Where The Business is Going? Try 20/20 Vision!

Leadership especially in a business environment is a very complex subject and many wise minds have tried to formalise the concept.

Perhaps one of the more significant factors that go to make up a leader is the ability to visualise the future for the business.

Let me make a point very clear at this stage.

Visualising the future for the business is NOT predicting the future. It is a matter if looking at the future and deciding what we intend the business to look like at a specific time ahead.

Following that the next question to ask is "If that is where we are going, what will we need to do to achieve it?"

Visualising what the business will look like in, say, five years time demands a high level of imagination as well as domain knowledge in the business.

It is often said that leaders must be visionaries, that they are the ones who know where they are going, what it will look like when they get there and what is needed to achieve it.

That may be the case but that could imply that the outcome will be purely an expression if the leader and his/her interests and desires, possibly to the detriment of the team ethos.

Far better, it seems to me, is to make the visualising exercise a team effort so that buy in is much more likely.

One of my Vistage CEO peer group members has gone through that exercise with remarkable results.

They decided on a five-year forward view of the business and with great presence, called it the 20/20 Vision.

Who should be included in the team?  Certainly the operational management team and it is a good idea to include some of the young talent in the business.  After all they are the ones more likely to be implementing any change in the future.

So now here we are in 2015 on a five vision up to the year 2020.  The first activity is to review where we are currently in some detail so that we have a strong starting point.

Coverage should comprise all the obvious financials together with current products and services, existing people resources, locations and so on.

Having done that the next activity is probably the most interesting and challenging.

At this stage we start the visualisation process and this means a lot of thought and imagination will be called for.

The emphasis must be on actually visualising what the business will look like in 2020, in what premises and with what sort of staffing.

In kinesiology terms members of the team need to have that visual ability and not everyone is comfortable in that role.

This does not imply that only people with visual capacity can contribute.  Others who may be more comfortable with words and descriptions will also add value as the task progresses.

It is a matter of good debate among the team. The leader must not allow any negativity at all and all thoughts and suggestions must be given equal value.

When all the ideas are in is the time for selection of those that seem to offer the greatest potential.

During the visualisation process ideas for new products/services will have emerged and it is always possible that they would be a major part of the growth potential.

Systems like this can bring out a raft of great innovative ideas and that is another reason for setting up the team.

Crucially the results must be communicated throughout the business so that everyone can see the value and importantly their place in achieving it.

20/20 vision is a great strap line and should be used at all times to tell the people where we are going. In fact it's the brand of the future of the business. 


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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Are Your People Fed Up With Repetitive Work? Give Them the Freedom to Change!

The recent number of wartime anniversaries reminded me that in both the First and the Second World Wars we had in the UK effectively full employment.

Admittedly a large majority of men were in military service but in any case the women made up for that shortage by taking on tasks that under normal circumstances they would never have contemplated.

Apart from service like the Land Army many of the jobs that the women took on were in the munitions industry.

For obvious reasons most of the jobs for women were classed as unskilled if only because few of them had experience of manufacturing industry with the specific exception of textile weaving and spinning.

In order to maximise the efficiency of the process it made sense at least from a manufacturing perspective to make each job as simple as possible by de-skirling.

It made the work totally repetitive with the virtual elimination of any input from the operative other than the need to undertake a simple mechanical task.

In other words the work was dehumanised to such an extent that significant psychological problems often resulted.

Kenneth and Will Hopper describe the birth of mass production in their great book, The Puritan Gift, the federal Springfield Armory being the progenitor.

Historically armaments had been hand made with the result that if a gun failed for any reason it could not be repaired without effectively rebuilding it by hand.

Machines allowed the manufacture of identical and hence replaceable components that not only simplified assembly but also significantly reduced costs.

The unintended spin-off however was the consequent de-skirling of the job and the onset of using people only to perform simple, mundane and boringly repetitive tasks.

These methods could be justified in wartime when manufacture of munitions was so vital but they naturally continued in many industries after the wars were over.

Charlie Chaplin in his film, Modern Times, depicted the little man working on a production line and performing a simple repetitive task of tightening two bolts with a spanner in each hand.

The line was speeded up and he manages to keep up but when the line stops he can't and the spanners keep trying to find bolts to tighten.

I have seen a plant manufacturing a well-known energy drink where the final quality inspection was visual as the bottles passed on a line in front of a brightly lit screen. 

To the credit of the company they realised that the task was so onerous that the operatives could only work for twenty minutes at a time and then had forty minutes in a restroom to recover.

Whether these functions still apply (it was a long time ago) I can't say but for sure there will be others that have taken over the use of dehumanised tasks in the workplace.

Perhaps the growth in robotics has eliminated many repetitive tasks in manufacturing but other industries have emerged where, perhaps worse, the tasks have been more cerebral than mechanical.

Typical of these is the dreaded call centre where operatives are expected to achieve a targeted number of calls each day, the calls being made automatically by the system.

It is another form of mass production and few people can cope with it for very long.

It is worth taking a look at the various functions in your business to see if any boring repetitive tasks can be re-engineered or better still eliminated.

Pay due heed to the abilities of your people and give them the freedom to think about and possibly change the way that they contribute.

If they are doing the job they are the best people to ask how to improve it.



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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Concerned About Planning For the Future? Try Some PESTLE Analysis!

The many factors that influence and often affect businesses can be analysed into two major sectors, internal and external.

The key to this is predictability with the consequent result of being able to accept, understand and proactively react.

The external factors are more significant. For one thing they can be entirely unpredictable and eve if we have advance notice there is nothing that we can do to affect their implementation.

In essence the only thing that we can do is either to wait until something happens and then react accordingly or, better, try to anticipate what might happen and make preparations to react.

A mnemonic, PESTLE, has been evolved which is the basis of the analysis as follows:

·  Political
·  Economic
·  Social
·  Technological
·  Legal
·  Environmental

For many reasons the political aspects can be more predictable than the others as most of the legislation has been or will be published and again most of it, if enacted, will not be in force for a significant period of time.

This means that it will be possible to check which pieces of legislation will affect us directly and to make sure that we have a plan in place to cope with any major changes.

Typical of this would be European employment legislation, which affects us all if we are employers.

The economy affects us to a lesser or greater extent and again it makes sense to monitor what is happening and what is likely to happen.

Many of the banks in Europe, including the UK, have been supporting the Greek banks and if they collapse which is always possible then they will experience substantial losses.

While hat should not affect us directly any losses will affect the markets and possibly even restrict lending.  Will we need finance at some time in the near future and if it proves difficult what would be our plan B?

Social aspects are much more difficult to predict.  We are only just into a five-year Parliament and not much of the proposed legislation has been announced.  In a social sense, watch out for the reductions in the welfare budget with savings of £12bn on admittedly a total payout of around £112bn.

However the reduction in tax credits for working people replaced by the new National Living Wage may have an effect on employment levels and in an environment where jobs are becoming more available this may mean some losses of employees.  All of this is likely to provoke some price inflation so watch out for that sort of pressure.

Take a view on technology.   The changes in the past five years have been exponential and there is no way that the rate of change in development and innovation is going to diminish.  If there are likely to be dramatic changes in the technology that either affects you or you are using then be prepared for it.

The legal aspects in general are offshoots of the political and social factors but a discussion with your legal advisers should uncover any proposed changes that are likely to affect you either way.

Finally the question of the environment is gaining momentum and the Environment Agency is becoming more proactive.  Be sure that whatever you are doing make certain that you are compliant and watch out for any changes in the legislation that might affect you.

All in all, the mantra should be “Be Prepared”.  It makes real sense to set up a small working party to keep tabs on what is happening and to ensure that we are ready for anything that is thrown at us, as far as possible that is.

If we can’t affect these criteria, we can at least be ready to react positively and remember we might just gain from any change we implement.


Download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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