Diet Fads Are Bad For Management

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

Resisting fads until they are proven to be useful might be a good strategy…but needs nerves of steel


Stephen Harvard Davis

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That Goldman Sachs Letter, Revenge or public service?

Greg Smith isn’t the first person to write an article about their past employer that is less than flattering and he won’t be the last. As a Goldman Sachs executive director
and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in
Europe, the Middle East and Africa he’s bound to be listened to and will cause more than a few intakes of breath in Goldman Sachs offices.

What Greg said in New York Times
The firm changed the way it thought about
leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and
doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and
are not currently an axe murderer) you will be promoted into a position
of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader?
a) Execute on the firm’s
“axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in
the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because
they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit.
b) “Hunt
Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are
sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring
the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like
selling my clients a product that is wrong for them.
c) Find yourself
sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque
product with a three-letter acronym.

Disgruntled or upset
It’s obvious that Greg is leaving Goldman Sachs a very disgruntled individual. Upset at how he’s been treated or genuinely upset at how customers are treated. Whatever the reason some will support him and others will be “appalled”.

Badly managed exit
Whatever you think of Greg and whether you agree with his point of view or not one can only assume that Goldman Sachs have mishandled his exit from the business. Here you have a senior executive that has potential to harm the business.

In my experience there will have been warning signs and these should have been picked up at an early stage.
Generally these include internal conflict, poor management of the individual, inappropriate blame, confusion over change programme, change in leadership that results in the individual being sidelined, change in corporate direction or values.


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Do we have a leadership crisis?

“Is there a world leadership crisis?” was the question posed to me yesterday by someone in the group I was speaking to yesterday.

Lack of political leadership
I had been talking about business team leadership and the question opened up a flood of thoughts that I’d had myself about leadership. In the recent past the world seems to have been led by rather uncharismatic political leaders. A few years ago we had great hopes for President Obamah but due to his problems with Congress his light seems to have faded. The European Community seems to have few politicians who understand or even identify with the people they are leading and their handling of the current debt crisis is leaving many exasperated. Popular revolutions replace dictators with “much the same as before”.

Business leadership not much better
But is business also suffering from a leadership crisis?
Bankers, all over the world, are as popular as a bad smell in a confined space, Journalists, in the UK, are viewed by many people as having little or no moral scruples, business leaders of all shades seen as feathering their own nests with undeserved salary increases and bonuses whilst their workers are laid off and have their salaries cut.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that there seems to be a universal lack of leadership.

Influenced by headlines
In reality, however, it’s always easy to become influenced the “Headlines”. In doing so we can ignore the huge numbers of people beavering away and producing small successes that move a business team forward. In the past few weeks I’ve met dozens of small business leaders that are managing to keep their business teams motivated, enthusiastic for the future and actually growing their business results.

That’s not to say there aren’t difficulties. Youth unemployment is a huge problem, the value of retirement annuities a disaster for many and industries laid bare a tragedy. Yet walk up any street and you notice so many business start-ups. Open up any magazine and you can see new and innovative products. Go into millions of businesses and you can find great team leaders.
I wonder if we can persuade some of these leaders to run for government?

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Essential ingredients to building a strong team

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?”

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Don’t blame salespeople for poor sales.

With sales margins being pushed south I was reminded, yesterday, by a sales Director of a statement that I made from a conference stage a few years ago “Sales teams are often blamed for poor sales when it’s not their fault”.

So who or what is to blame?
Too often sales teams limp along with undiagnosed problems when a “new process” is implemented in the hope that it will have immediate improvements. In my experience there are a number of issues that need to be considered before rushing into another and potentially expensive new sales process. These include:

  • There is little understanding how departments such as legal, accounts and IT impact on sales
  • Senior managers don’t appreciate how the existing sales process works
  • People don’t understand why the business makes sales and more importantly loses sales
  • Too few of the sales team contribute too much of the sales result
  • Sales forecasting is based on “Gut feeling” and “Hope”
  • Sales forecast is made on a short term basis (This month or next)

Take time
There are many actions that can be taken to solve the above list but “blaming the sales team” isn’t always one of them. Instead correctly diagnose where the business needs to look for improvements in the sales cycle. The other thing to remember is that there’s no pill that will provide instantaneous results. Time, good analysis and correct implementation needs to be taken when delivering sales improvements.

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UK Business Leaders Aren’t Impressed

A survey has found that UK’s leaders aren’t impressed with the work that their own companies are doing to develop their next generation of managers.

Management Today writes that figures by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, just four in 10 leaders think the measures their company has put in place to coax out their employees’ inner CEO is ‘highly effective’ – which means six in 10 don’t.

The survey asked 367 leaders about their leadership development programme and found that two in 10 actually think the LDP’s in their own company are downright ineffective. As MT so rightly asks: “Considering they’re the people in charge of their companies why they sort it out?

In the long run it’s likely to be a costly error but then again few people in charge have the vision to find and develop the person who will eventually replace them. Instead the tendency is to get rid of the threat!

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The not so delicate art of firing people

Lucy Kellaway’s brilliant article in yesterday’s Financial Times on “The not so delicate art of firing people” where she analysed two emails giving staff bad news. Her conclusion that “using an upbeat tone is a cowardly attempt to hoodwink staff into thinking something good will happen”, was spot on!

It reminded me of an email that was given to me by a friend that was designed to be motivational, and I guess was in a funny sort of way as it had the effect of binding the team even harder against their team leader. This is what the IT team found in their email inbox when the team leader had just departed for a weeks holiday.

“I am sending you this email because whilst I’m away I don’t want you to feel leaderless. I view my job like being the leader of a flock of geese. I have the responsibility to guide the flock to new feeding pastures.

Sometimes I don’t know where the best feeding grounds might be and will fly round in circles until I can locate them. Then I must fly to it in the shortest possible route. Now and again I might have to make adjustments in our flight path to ensure that the flock finds the best feeding ground.

Generally I will take the lead so that weaker geese can fly in my slipstream but sometimes I will allow another goose to take the lead to provide experience of leading the flock. Whilst I’m away I hope that some of you will take the opportunity to take the lead until I return to guide you once more

On receipt an email was sent to the rest of the team by someone who said ” I hadn’t realised that for the last six months I’ve been flying round in circles to God knows where whilst looking up a Ducks arse”

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“Quick wins” in a new job don’t always deliver results

I have watched with some amusement the mess that the UK’s coalition Government have found themselves in over their announcements to “Housing benefit” changes. We’ve been told that this will be capped at £400 per week. It reminds me of the situation that many business leaders and executives in a new job find themselves when introducing a “Quick win”. The reason is that to often “Quick wins” fail to deliver the expected results.

Let’s consider the UK’s proposal to cap housing benefit to reflect average earnings. On the surface it would seem sensible and would certainly reduce costs. But the (hopefully exaggerated) image of hundreds of thousands of families and children, particularly in London, being made homeless and trudging up the the road with their belongings as they are forced out of their homes to find cheaper accommodation has generated claims of “Social cleansing” from Mayor Boris Johnson and concern from many MPs.

Too often  a new team leader or senior executive in a business will introduce a “quick win” because they understand that they have little time to prove themselves and want to demonstrate that they are “hitting the ground running”. It’s also seen as a useful tool to create a positive reputation for being a forward thinker or innovator.

The change that’s generally selected has often worked for the individual in the past. However, what the new leader fails to consider is the new team, new culture and new management style. In communicating the “quick win” great emphasis will be placed on instant results (saving money) without analysis of the long-term consequences in other departments of areas of the business.

This often causes a storm of protest, the executive is wrong footed and either has to revise their plans with the consequence of “loss of face” and reputation or stick to their guns and be accused of being unfeeling, autocratic or worse. The problem is that a “Reputation” has been made and it’s a negative one and that reputation is often difficult to change.

I judge that we can expect some “Good news” from the coalition Government within the next few days

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“British Airways Strike and Teambuilding”

The current dispute between British Airways and the cabin crews must pose concerns as to the ability of the airline to develop a positive working relationships in the future between the airline and its staff.

Whilst there is no doubt that British Airways is looking to cut costs and ensure that the airline is able to compete with its rivals one must consider that British Airways must either break the union or potentially become a shadow of its previous self.

The problem with either result is the potential ill feeling felt by both sides at the end of the dispute. A recovery of morale, trust and mutual support could take many years to achieve. During this time passengers may well opt to travel with rival carriers and thus leaving BA with the long-term potential of becoming the UK’s Pan Am!

The Airline would do well to start planning how they might achieve a recovery of morale, professional working and team-building prior to the end of the dispute. To spend time congratulating itself on any real or imaginary victory over the union could well be too late. 

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