Monday, August 25, 2008

Why change the habit of a lifetime?

Yesterday, when I am usually writing my blog, I was discussing with friends about an urgent need for change. And yet, by pure coincidence, today (while working on a project for one of my clients) I came across the three following statements:

“Faced with changing one’s mind, or proving that there is no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

The interesting thing about these statements is that they apply equally to our private lives as in business. If everything is perfect then change is the last thing we need. However if things are really bad, most of us find it still too hard to change. My aunt often used to say “better the devil you know than the devil you do not know”. Well, what nonsense is that?

There is a really great line in a Steely Dan song:

“like a castle in its corner, in a medieval game, I foresee terrible trouble and I stay here just the same”. You might want to criticize the forced imagery but the truth the line conveys is extraordinary.

In business, everyday I am confronted by people that would like to change and improve things but somehow find the risk and the effort too much to keep them motivated to go through with the necessary action. But this is exactly where the interim manager must assist. It is our ‘duty’ to inspire, motivate and cajole people to rise to a higher level, to adapt to new environments and to grasp the challenges of what is out there to be won.

Really good interim managers, set out a plan and a strategy for change and do not rest until those around them see it and sign up to the program. Having achieved this first goal, the remainder of the assignment becomes operational – important, but none the less, not so enthralling.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Nothing but Fun

This year I have been too busy with my projects to follow the Olympics, however there is one name that keeps being mentioned on the radio: Michael Phelps. I didn’t even know his name before the Olympics but I find it simply amazing that he has achieved so much.

In business, when we are confronted with what appears to be insurmountable problems, the energy needed to tackle the complexity is often too much for many people to handle alone.

Someone asked me today if I thought their team was of sufficient quality to achieve the objective ahead of them. My reply was simply: You do not always need to have the very best around you. Most businesses don’t even get 50% of efficency out of the teams they employ. Companies that attain an average 80%, or more, can achieve incredible things. The most important points being:

1. Know your team, understand what everyone is capable of and utilize them wisely. Forget what they are doing right now and create a new page for each and everyone of them. You might find that some maybe optimally deployed but I am sure that the majority will not be.
2. Learn how to motivate each and every team player and make the time to keep them motivated.
3. Install belief, sell a vision that everyone can believe in and you will be amazed how much can be done by so few.

As Michael Phelps put it: "Nothing is impossible”. “With so many people saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination, and that's something I learned and something that helped me”. “It's been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it's been nothing but fun."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kaizen - Myth or useful Methodology?

Anyone who has worked for Toyota will know the meaning of this word. According to Wikipedia, it is Japanese for ‘change for the better’ or ‘improvement’. In fact it is now becoming mostly used to mean ‘continual improvement’.

The Japanese have an interesting approach to management, where (in principle) no one goes home until everyone has completed their work for the day. The result being that managers are blamed if their employees are over worked or over stressed – a balance being considered as always best. And so it is that the application of Kaizen, in the workplace, becomes a daily task and can be seen as much more than just the application of improvements to productivity.

I was reminded of Kaizen this week because I am busy struggling with the reality of finding a way of not only applying it into a company, but also I want to see if I can even apply it to myself!

One of the Bayard Partnership’s clients has an extremely complex supply chain and end to end business process flow. If the results are bad in November, the real root causes maybe down to errors considered as unimportant that occurred many months earlier. If I may offer an analogy: it is not until we actually see the great icebergs melting that we begin to believe that global warming might actually be a problem.

Until now the global warming argument has always been (very conveniently) centered around, 'if what is causing it has anything to do with human behavior?'. Yet right now the symptoms are becoming so severe that they are forcing us to look much deeper into its possible real causes and to finally begin to tackle the complexity of the problem in such a way as to eventually find solutions.

The question for both the Bayard Partnership's client and the World is – is it too late? Or will the continuing irrelevant, sidestepping questioning and fault blaming only deliver short term solution strategies, rather than tackle the core issues?

As evidence of surface level, side stepping, arguments: only last week we heard Senator McCain make fun of Senator Obama because he said that if Americans checked their tire pressures more regularly and had their car engines tuned for efficiency, the amount of oil that McCain wants to drill out of an important world nature site would not in reality be needed.

If anyone has experience in effectively implementing Kaizen techniques into companies apathetic for change, then please feel free to share them with me and my blog readers…

Have a good week,


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Falling Revenues – The challenge for the interim manager

Any interim manager will know just how difficult it can be turning around a company with falling revenues. Often what we first detect as 'the problem' turns out as only a symptom. Long lasting solutions (if they exist) mostly involve a multi-faceted approach, incorporating all or many of the company's departments. This week, I thought you might be interested to know about a group of companies in the UK that were suffering from falling revenues?

Ten years ago the majority of English homes had direct water supplies, meaning that the water companies ran their pipes to the houses without placing any kind of measuring device in-between. This meant that consumers could effectively use as much water as they liked, and all for a fixed fee.

This might come as a surprise to many readers but the UK (especially in the South) often suffers from droughts. Bearing this in mind, the water companies wanted to avoid waste and ensure a constant supply, even in the driest months. Very much against the wishes of their customers the water companies persuaded the UK Government and Ofwat (the independent watch dog that the government introduced to protect the consumer at the time the water companies were de-nationalized) to enforce the use of water meters.

The result of the introduction of meters was exactly what the water companies wanted, a down-turn in the use of mains water. The sale of water buts and underground tanks, dramatically increased and the English, like their southern climate European neighbors, became a nation of water re-cyclers. The net result was predictable - the water companies began to suffer from a loss of revenue.

Unlike in any ‘normal’ kind of business the water companies did not need to introduce serious cost saving initiatives, or look for creative ways of generating added value or introduce new services etc. In short, they did not need interim managers to step in to help. No, in their case, all they did was increase the price of water! Their customers were powerless and had no choice but to pay the dramatically increased prices. Where else could they purchase their drinking water? Ofwat did nothing but stand back and approve the increases.

I am a free thinking man, I like to embrace enterprise and competition but (in my opinion) the de-nationalization of the supply of drinking water, in the UK, has done nothing to enhance the lives of the consumer or businesses.

In August 2007, I gave my readers the chance to tackle a really complex business problem, with the objective of comparing their approach to that of others and possibly even winning a prize or two. I launched the ‘Solving the CEO’s dilemma’ competition, which was due to stop at the end of July but has now been extended for an additional four weeks to the 31st. of August 2008. If you want to find out more and have a go at solving a revenue issue click here: 'The CEO's Dilemma'