Books on Managment Issues:

Links to Management Readings

On Strategy, Growth & Survival

“There are two types of risk: the risk of going out on a limb and the risk of holing up in a safe place. Success comes from balancing between the two.”

Anne-Marie Fink

OK, so there’s a recession in progress and business is down. As an entrepreneur or business leader, you have a choice in how you deal with this transition time before things pick up again. You can mope and feel sorry for yourself and worry about when the corner will be turned to the next boom. Or, you can seize the opportunity of the moment. Truth is, when the boom was on, you and your organization were probably run off your feet trying to keep up with demand. It was crazy, but it was a happy crazy because the money was flowing. (Do remember, though, what a nightmare staffing was in the last uptick.) With time and excess capacity on your hands, the downturn is actually a signal for you to do the things you didn’t have time for before. Its an ideal time to clean up “messes” in your organization, be they literally physical messes accumulated around your work-place, or processes that failed under the pressure in the boom. What failed? Why did it fail? What is involved to make it better? If your answer to these questions is that nothing failed – everything worked perfectly – odds are you’re fooling yourself. So, dig deeper. Talk to staff, talk to your key customers and suppliers. Remember—when the next uptick comes (which it will) you will be run off your feet again! So NOW is the time!

A downtick is also the ideal time to address strategy. When did you last take the time to do this? Can’t remember? A lot of people associate “strategy” with something high-falutin’ that emanates from MBA School. The definition of strategy in the Oxford Dictionary is, curiously, all about warfare. However, the root of the word is Greek and comes from “generalship”. You indeed are the “general” of your organization, regardless of whatever other title you might place on your business card.

So, you say you have a pre-existing strategic plan on record? That’s good, but you don’t get a free pass. No value edge remains sharp forever. To keep your edge honed, you need to reassess it periodically. Most strategies have a lifecycle and a season. Be wary that the season may be changing and your plan isn’t adequate anymore. The time to jump on this is now—before the plan runs out of gas. Strategic planning can also be a bit overwhelming if you embrace it across your entire organization and all its processes. Perhaps the more do-able, “bite-sized” approach is to identify specific departments, functions or processes and target these for new thoughts.

By the way, “newness” isn’t likely to come from “old” places. You need to get away from your workplace to foster new thoughts—that’s why “retreats” are popular. New social associations are also conducive to creative thinking. So its time to crowbar off the nails that have you attached to your familiar perch. This isn’t just an ad for resort getaways – it is based on neuroscience. Experiences modify the connections between neurons. But when the brain is subjected to the same stimuli, the neurons respond with decreasing vigour. Our brains are basically lazy and energy conservers. They take the path of least resistance and activate the neurons that have been previously programmed to interpret stimuli. The downside of energy efficiency is that past experience will pre-program our future perceptions. When faced with new experiences, the brain will be forced to work harder and make new connections. In short, novel ideas incubate from novel experiences.

What about a technology review?

For starters, this already should be institutionalized in your existing processes. You should have an annual technology budget. Some of this will get spent annually on obvious things—something breaks and needs replacement. But as you approach the end of your budgeting year and significant tech dollars aren’t spent yet, that’s a sign for proactivity—go and find something to spend money on. I promise this won’t be spurious spending. Rather, it will be the clarion call to progress. Technology improvements may be very specific to your industry, or they may be more generic. Do all of the workstations in your admin department have dual monitors? Are you addressing unnecessary paperflow, or just ordering reams of paper from Staples? Going green isn’t just about Gaia’s environmental issues, it is also about being business-smart. I guarantee your processes somewhere include paper production which isn’t necessary. Look into current scanning technology to see the neat things that are happening there. If you have people on the road, have you addressed technology upgrades to make them more efficient? Are you up-to-date on cellphone technology? Have you considered building an intranet—that’s an in-house website—to enhance firm-wide communication and to capture and house the firm’s collection of intellectual capital? The buzz term for that nowadays is KM—knowledge management.

How are you spending your own time?

Recent research in the US estimated that the average American watches 151 hours of TV per month—that’s five hours a day on average. If you are one of those, you need to do some time reallocation and find some time for reading. Amidst all of the business Press schlock, there are some excellent business books. Pick up Jim Collins’ Good To Great, and embrace his “flywheel” to greatness, which includes the now-famous “get the right people on the bus” mantra as well as “the hedgehog concept” and “building a culture of discipline”. Evan Dudek will inspire and mutate your thoughts on innovation with his approach of lighting many tiny fires, not pouring all of your fuel on one giant one.

What metrics do you have in your business?

Are they still useful, or tired? Do you take them for granted or actually pay attention to what they say? It may be time to think of some new metrics. Think of a few really salient ones and focus on them. If you are not sure yourself, consult your advisor or accountant for some new ideas.

Filling the bus/emptying the bus

This applies to both your staff and your customers and your suppliers. Every Good-to-Great seminar I have attended has sent attendees away swearing to do some HR house-cleaning when they get home. Conventional wisdom says to cut costs to survive a downturn. Fair enough—but cut the right costs! Now may actually be the right time to spend more on staff training. Why? See aforementioned discussion about being too busy in the uptick! Focus your training dollars on “hard stuff”. Save the touchy-feely training dollars for another day.

Anne-Marie Fink believes that “high-performing workplaces make for happy employees” and not vice versa. This puts the onus square on the “general” to seize moments like these to raise the bar of performance. For you auto-racing fans, Collins’ bus has slowed down around one of the economic curves, and its your job to turbo charge the vehicle for the inevitable full-speed straight stretch that lies around the corner.


What CEOs Should Learn from Bush’s Mistakes

  1. It’s a mistake to surround yourself with people who agree with you all the time. Any institution must tolerate a certain amount of debate about the right course of action; when you shut down internal debate, you put the organization at risk.
  2. A leader needs multiple sources and multiple flows of information. A leader dependent on a single or even a handful of sources for crucial information about what is happening on the ground is in serious danger. “A driving curiosity of essential to avoid being blindsided,” he says.
  3. Arrogance and false pride are hugely destructive — be it the leader’s arrogance, or the organization’s, which usually are linked.
  4. Be sensitive to history’s lessons. The message for U.S. presidents from Vietnam, for example, was to have a clear objective, bring overwhelming force to bear, achieve the objective, and leave. History can’t dictate a leader’s actions but should certainly inform it.
  5. Every CEO must ask: “What are my blind spots? Am I getting the critical information I need?” Intel’s Andy Grove wrote that “only the paranoid survive” and Mr. Holstein adds a corollary: “Only those humble enough to contemplate uncomfortable truths will long endure.”

William Holstein, Editor of Chief Executive Magazine

Random Thoughts on Management:

The PARACHUTE School of Management:

The CEO is forever coming-and-going and sticking his nose in day-to-day operations without really being involved

The WIZARD of OZ School of Management:

The CEO that hides behind closed doors and pulls the strings

The Palm Tree School of Management:

“It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the ground if there’s still NUTS on top”

On Leadership

“The entrepreneur is the leader of the organization.
An organization without a leader is being led by the people who are there to follow.
The organization without a leader is being led by people who are consumed by doing it, doing it, doing it.
An organization that’s consumed by doing it, doing it, doing it will never reach anywhere higher.
It will continue on this flat plane until it runs out of gas, or until something from the outside hits it square between the eyes.
The entrepreneur (as leader) must have a vision, remember that vision and pursue that vision in the face of all resistance. Cash isn’t king; clarity is king. ‘What’s the one thing my company could do that’s impossible to do, but if it could do it, would blow people’s minds?'”

Michael Gerber

On Branding

“Day after day, a brand is not what you sell, but how you do business. How you do business is your brand. How you do what you do, and how you look when you do it is your brand. For your brand to have meaning, your brand has to be a thing that works and delivers a promise in a singularly compelling way”

Michael Gerber

Lessons from Kids’ Games

Every year since the mid-Seventies, twenty of our dear friends have got together for a ritual game of broomball that dates back to our college days. For those of you who don’t know it, “broomball” is played like hockey on an ice surface which has been shaved to make it less slippery. The shaving is necessary because, unlike hockey, the game is played with regular running shoes or boots rather than skates. Hockey sticks are substituted by sawed-off corn brooms and the puck is replaced by a small air-filled ball. After that, the objective is the same: put the ball in the net!

Studying the actions of the individual participants, it is apparent who has spent time in team sports in their youth. Individual stars quickly learn that it takes cooperation with team-mates to overcome the great equalizer of unsure footing. Communication skills are learned: to tell your cohorts where you are in relation to them and where you are going next (you hope!) When your team-mate has the ball, this information is useful to him/her in the face of rapid-fire assault from the foe, in order to generate alternatives … quickly.

One also sees the risk attitudes of one’s friends in a game. On defence, some people are stay-at-home types, happy and adept at protecting the home base; others are aggressive at pursuing the attackers. On offence, some again remain happy at home, while others tear off down the ice to torment the opposition.

I came to reflect that our annual recreational classic was instructive for entrepreneurship. Several lessons on the playing field are applicable to managers in the work environment:

  • Do-it-all superstars seldom play on successful teams: Employees need to be drawn into the game.
  • Truly gifted superstars have a knack for raising the level of performance of those around them.
  • No superstar can play the entire game. Spend some time on the bench, recovering your own energy and observing what goes on before you.
  • Take a rest between periods.
  • Communication is important with your employees: tell them where the company is going. Encourage them to do the same with you.
  • Build your team to include both stay-at-home types and those inclined to mix it up with others.
  • Remember that in the long run you have two missions: to defend your own turf and, secondly, to claim some new turf (again, see previous point about selecting team members).
  • Celebrate your team victories — together.
  • If it is crowded on the playing field, go find some space. Little children first learning team sports inevitably all hang around wherever the ball
    happens to be. The gifted ones figure out to move off into open space where greater opportunities may develop.
  • Lastly: enjoy the game you play