Recently a load of people have been talking to me about restructuring their teams for the future.
I’ve noticed that to do this they collect vast amounts of data in an effort to predict the future trends, business conditions, customer needs and so on.
The problem with the future
The problem is that the future is unpredictable. and the only people to generate a “five year plan was thr old Soviet Union…and look where they are today!
Take technology for instance…by the time it’s clear what will be affected in the future it’s too late! It move so fast that catching up is difficult far less being able to stay ahead. THerefore traditional planning where the object is to predict the future, develop detailed plans and restructure teams to take account of those predictions no longer make sense.
It must be assumed that the future can’t be predicted…but it can be prepared for. The answer is to shift how business prepares for the future.The task for business is to structure the organisation to be immediately flexible. That’s not new idea…but it’s rarely implemented successfully.
I’m excited about the future
Over the past months I’ve talked to so many business leaders about this topic. I’m excited that the result will be that I’m organising a series of events for selected business leaders to talk to them on how they can plan for the future they don’t yet know about.
I had a long breakfast with a friend and Company Director this morning. Over the bacon and eggs we talked about some senior and unexpected departures from one of his competitors. He was identifying the opportunities these senior departures presented for his own company.
In short he categorised these as:
- Available talent might be available and useful to his own comany (possibly on a consultancy basis)
- The competitor’s clients might speculate that they might need to shop around for alternative suppliers (Just in case!)
- Loss in staff morale and as a result loss of productivity
- Gap in leadership until new leader can be appointed and begin to succeed
- Possible further departures which could increase problems
- Cost to competitor of rehiring and lead-in time for newe job holder
Too often, when senior management departs staff look to the future wondering if the business is doomed. (Even if the leader had been unpopular) and wonder if they should consider finding another job before it’s too late. My friend and I speculated that the benefits for my friend’s company could last between six and nine months and be worth many clients and an increase in sales income.
Bernard Matthews as an example
One only has to look at Bernard Matthews, the turkey company, to see how the loss of top people can benefit competitors. Last week the Chairman, Davis McCall, stepped down. Then the Chief Executive, Noel Bartram left and follows Rob Mears the Managing Director’s ealier departure.
The company employs 2200 people with a further 1000 staff in Germany and Hungary. In recent years Trading conditions have been poor for the company with bird flu and increase in costs. In addition staff morale has been hit and sales have slumped. Profits on a turnover of £341m amounted to just £2m.
With the departure of senior people it could be expected that morale and productivity will further be affected unless the latest appointment of David Joll (former CE) can secure a rumoured investment of between £20 and £30million. In which case he could end up as a hero.
My friend and I worked on plans until lunchtime on ways to manage possible, though unlikely, senior departures in his own company.
I was talking to a group of managers earlier this week about increasing team productivity when one asked “What’s the latest thinking on this?” It didn’t surprise me as I’ve become used to team leaders and even CEO’s wanting to have the “Latest fix or fad” believing that it’s bound to be better than the previous ones.
Management can’t be like a diet fad
It’s like watching compulsive dieters trying the latest diet craze for a while before moving onto the next. Examples would be Total Quality Management in the 1980’s, more info
followed by process reenigineering and culture change. The difficulty for managers is implementing change so that it’s always beneficial to the organisation.
The expectation that the latest fad will increase profitability through competitive advantage can’t be true when every other company is adopting the same fad. I recently was interviewed by William Buist on this exact topic and a short clip from the YouTube video can be seen here http:youtu.be/ij3nQcM9AV8
Resisting fads until they are proven to be useful might be a good strategy…but needs nerves of steel
Last week a Company Director phoned Assimilating-Talent and was talking to me about his frustration with communicating change to his employees. He told me that “People don’t read stuff”.
Actually his frustration was that his employees seemed not to remember information.
I pointed out that this shouldn’t be a surprise when you look at how information is available and the way people retrieve it. Wikipedia doubling each year, over 200 million searches on “Tax advice” from Google, staff handbooks that run to 100 pages or more, 200 emails a day into their inbox and so on. People don’t need to remember information any more, they just need to know how to retrieve it.
Another result of all this information is that people are reading information differently. They scan for keywords as they hunt for specific topics, they read horizontally dipping in and out of text and store information, without reading it, for later reading.
This has huge implications for how organisations communicate with their people. The frequency of that communication and what people are being asked to look at. Possibly, instead of large memos, a shorter one line asking people to read: ‘“Section 2.4” of the change programme as this has changed‘.
Someone who I follow and talks huge sense on the topic of communication with people and businesses is Chris Street, The Bristol Editor and I would recommend a discussion with him if you want to improve your internal communication
I often find myself talking to team managers about the differences between “Change” and “Transition”.
The reason for the discussion is that so many people assume that they are the same.
In my experience nothing could be further from the truth and very simply:
Change: Is a physical move to a new place. (This includes move of office, new way of working, dieting, learning and so on).
Transition: Are the mental stages that people move through to arrive at the new place
The definition illustrates why some team leaders find it difficult to implement change when they have other people to lead along a pathway to change. One of the major problems that contributes to change failure is that the leader works through the transition before those being led are given time to do so.
More information on transition management
I’ve been asked to forward my reply to a question posed on LinkedIn on team building to a few of my friends, so thought I would republish it here.
Building a team is like building a good restaurant team
I often make the analogy that building a successful
business team is similar to opening a restaurant to serve great food. It
needs a capable, stable and motivated brigade in the kitchen as well as
a team of people to serve the food and make the eating experience
The ingredients good or bad are often immediately noticeable by
customers. If the team, in both the kitchen and front-of-house areas
can’t work together then either the food or service will suffer and
customers will IMMEDIATELY stay away in droves.
The first task is to have a stable team. Staff turnover is a universal
problem, and not just in the catering sector.
Each new appointment seems
to carry with it a high risk of failure. Let’s explore why this is …
There seems to be three common mistakes that team leaders can make. The
first is failing to communicate the results that are required from the
team. Job descriptions provide an indication of the required results but
success in a job depends upon the boss’s assessment. The team,
therefore, needs to understand what constitutes a success in the boss’
eyes and how such success will be measured.
Gaining a clear understanding of what success looks like can be achieved
by holding a series of meetings with the the team. As such they are
best undertaken as formal 1:1 discussions, as opposed to short
conversations over the coffee machine or at a team meeting.
The types of questions that need to be asked include:
· How has the current situation reached this point?
· What problems have been identified if the situation is not improved?
· What actions the leader expects in the short and medium term?
· What would constitute success in the leaders’ eyes?
· How and when will performance be measured?
The second mistake is failing to communicate the boss’s management
style. This means understanding how the leader likes to be communicated
with and how often? What decisions the leader likes to make personally
and what decisions are clearly delegated to individuals in the team?
Don’t ignore culture
A big mistake a leader can make is to ignore the culture of the business
or not to consciously develop a culture for a new team. To ignore
culture makes introducing change more difficult. In addition the leader
needs to consider that all change will have an affect on other people,
particularly in other areas in the organisation, so prior to making
changes it’s important to consider the consequences both upstream and
Then there’s the aspect of training. A leader wanting to build a strong
team needs to ensure that the team can deliver what’s expected. One of
the lessons from Restaurants is that there’s little point in placing
Duck a la Normande on the menu if the kitchen brigade haven’t the
ability to cook it properly and restaurant team don’t know how to serve
it. (Or what it is).
Now, isn’t that a recipe for business success?”
I’m drawn to watching the apprentice because the producers of the show seem to have brought together the usual group that will inevitably make good television!
Billed as the “cream of UK’s entrepreneurial management” one can only cringe at how some behave and the delusions that they have of themselves. The best line of the night was when one of the men described himself as “good looking too”.
Sympathy for the contestants
However, perhaps I have more sympathy with the contestants this time than in earlier contests. In the past the prize on offer was a job working for Alan, sorry Lord Sugar. Now the prize is £250,000 investment into a business partnership on a 50/50 basis. Thus ensuring Lord Sugar’s continual presence.
On the basis that one chooses ones business partner more carefully than one’s life partner the process seems very one sided when Lord Sugar does all the choosing and ends each edition with…”You’re fired!”
Will the last contestant be brave enough?
When the last contestant is revealed will they, having considered the tedious selection process, Sugar’s knit picking and criticisms and the defence of their own ineptitude in the boardroom week after week, be brave enough to say something like, “Over the past weeks I’ve seen you in action and on reflection I think I’ll find someone else to invest in me”
Now if that were on the cards wouldn’t that make watching the series more fun?
The UK’s proposals for change in welfare reforms and the Armed Forces is underway but business change hasn’t been too noticeable for many. However that is about to change. Large companies have begun to implement significant structural change and much more is on the way, starting with HSBC on 11th May.
HSBC to reduce size of branch network
HSBC is announcing changes to its retail operations in the UK in order to lower their cost to income ratio. According to reports the options being considered include:
- Sale of a significant number of branches.
- Relocation of the UK retail Head Office from Canary Wharf to a less expensive location in London
- Removal of layers of middle management
- The creation of a new ethos where all sections of the bank must contribute profits or be restructured or sold
It’s likely that the changes will follow a similar pattern adopted by other banks and particularly by Bob Diamond at Barclays Bank where each individual business must contribute to profitability or risk being shut down.
Research determined strategy
A great deal of research has been undertaken by banks to determine the strategy that will be most beneficial. Interestingly TSB telephoned me last week to survey my attitude to service levels within my local bank in St Albans.
Too much change can be destructive
It would seem that wholesale change is likely to be implemented by Stuart Gulliver at HSBC. However, in my experience, too much change all at once can cause unforeseen problems. These include:
- Change instability. Where one part of the organisation is unable to perform properly because of the change happening further upstream or downstream of the product flow.
- Change fatigue. where individual teams suffer so much change that it stalls whilst they take a breather to collect their shared breath.
- Time differences. This is where the people that have designed the change are impatient to implement the change and therefore find themselves in a future time frame where they have a vision of the desired results whilst those affected by the change are still firmly set in the past and will cling onto what they know best. To overcome this time difference there needs time for teams to express concerns without being considered disruptive or anti-sponsors of the change strategy.
Complex and all embracing change warrents Directors and managers to be meeting with teams, regularly and consistently with a similar message and reassurance, even when bad news is being delivered.
Some months ago I was contacted by someone saying that a friend had given them my name and contact details and, after hearing all the positive things said about me, would love to meet me. Well what would you have done… Delighted, I said “of course”.
“Something’s come up…”
Meeting was a bit difficult as we lived over a three hour journey from each other and so a one hour SKYPE call was arranged. On the day scheduled for the call I received an email saying that “something had come up” and could we rearrange. Something coming up happens to the best people and naturally I agreed.
After I had juggled my diary a little bit we diarised a time for the second SKYPE appointment and another hour was set aside . Now, let’s agree that video conference meetings are appointments. Just that they are over the computer screen. Then a few hours before the time I received another email, “Sorry, I’m up to my eyes, can we reappoint. I’ll call you”
Would I be desperate to try to meet for a third time?
I was staggered by the arrogance that not once, but twice my time was seen as being unimportant, that her obvious inability to manage her time should inconvenience me and that I would be desperate to try a third time to meet with her! Since then I’ve received newsletters and various other updates about her business with offers to purchase products but no aplogy.
It ended very expensively
Yesterday I had a meeting in The City of London and her name came up in conversation. I related the story of the failed SKYPE Calls and within a flash, that even surprised me, her involvement in any future projects was rejected. It just shows that arrogant rudeness can end up being very expensive!
It never ceases to amaze me how often business change fails and how many change initiatives end up costing huge amounts on money in lost opportunities.
BETFAIR parts with Chief Executive
For intance yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph business section reported that BETFAIR has parted company with their Chief Executive just three months after the online trading platform had been launched. “In recent months analysts have questioned how successful the roll-out has been” of the LMAX platform and the shares have fallen 25% in less than six months.
Another example I observed last weeek was a sales team that had restructured to allow the team to concentrate on “High net worth clients”. Those clients not lucky enough to be categorised in the high net worth category would, in future, be dealt with from a call centre. Sales have subsequently fallen dramatically as the majority of sales came from small purchases. Now categorised as “insignificant” these customers reacted badly to being advised by people who did not have the experience to advise them properly. Result reduced sales and lost clients.
Too often a contributory mistake is “Executive Paralysis” in identifying and accepting that initial thinking and planning could be flawed and to have a back-up plan. This rejection of potential failure creates a position that when fallback options are needed they are introduced with a sense of panic, adding more to the “costs of lost opportunity”