Why failing to focus on the organisation can lead to strategy failure

June 2, 2011

McKinsey, the international management specialists, write in their latest quarterly newsletter about the dangers of ignoring organisational growth when developing a new business strategy (the where’s and hows of growth).  The authors, Martin Dewhurst, Suzanne Heywood, and Kirk Rieckhoff, make the case that “organizational processes and structures that are well suited to today’s challenges may well buckle under the strain of new demands”. Based on the experiences of 3 businesses that faced growing pains, the article focusses on three aspects of the organisation side of the equation.

1. Is the structure appropriate for the strategy?  An organisation’s structures (and culture) evolve over time based on the existing needs of the business.  However, these same structures can stifle the possibility of growth.  Any established structure will have a built-in inertia.  Management need to understand how best to adapt, change or even work around the existing structures in order to bring about the new strategy.

ii. Are the processes ‘fit for purpose’?  Organisational processes evolve to fit the current purpose of an organisation. Start ups, for example, tend to be informal.  This allows a collegiate approach to decision-making. However, as the start up moves to the next phase, informal processes not only are no longer inappropriate but could hold back growth.  A meeting with 5 can be informal, a meeting with 25 cannot.

iii. Have your people the skillsets?  As a business grows, so does both its complexities and ambiguities.  Skillsets that were  appropriate for a simple organisation tend to be lost in a growing organisation.  If the business does not give its employees the ability to cope with the new complexities, even successful employees will flounder or even fail.

Creating a new strategy is exciting for a management team.  Creating a new organisation to implement that strategy may not be as sexy but it is equally as important; as I have written previously, culture will eat strategy for breakfast.


What Next for Employees?

July 27, 2010

The Towers Watson 2010 Global Workforce Survey provides some interesting insights that should be taken into account by all Leaders when planning for the future of their organisations.  Based on 20,00 workers in 22 countries, some of the key points in the survey include:

  • Employees see security as a fast disappearing part of the employment relationship although 76% want a secure position above all else
  • Only 38% of employees think that their leaders have a sincere interest in their well-being while less than half think that their leaders inspire and engage them
  • Almost 40% of employees are either disenchanted or fully disengaged
  • 42% of staff think they have to go elsewhere to advance

As many organisations are finding out, it is one thing to keep employees when they have no other options but, when the upturn does come around – and for some companies, it already has – these employees will start to question how they have been treated during the downturn. The best of these employees will have the earliest options to move to what they consider to be a better job.

Now is the time for Leaders to begin reengaging with employees through, for example, challenging work design, growth opportunities and, putting in place recognition programmes.


12 Things Good Bosses Believe

May 31, 2010

Bob Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University . He writes an excellent blog, as well writing for, among others, the Harvard Business Review.  A believer in evidence based management, he is one of the sanest and more interesting writers on management out there. This is all a forerunner for one of his latest pieces on the 12 things good bosses believe. These include:

  1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  2. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  3. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?”
  4. Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
  5. How I do things is as important as what I do.

The rest are available at the HBR blog.  For my part, I will add that a leader needs to get his people to understand why the organisation does what it does.  This is crucial to getting buy-in and that all important engagement.


Myths about teams

May 28, 2010

The latest edition of HR Dynamics newsletter focuses on how organisations can make the most of their people through better team work. If you would like to join our mailing list, please let us know at shane@hrdynamics.ie.  One article from the newsletter deals with some of the myths about teams.

Many organisations establish teams by putting a group of employees together to deliver on a particular project – and then label them a team.  When the sum of the parts does not equal (or is even less than) the sum of the individuals, the organisation blames the team, the team leader or the notion of teams.  Management attention moves onto a new focus and the idea of the team gets a bad name in the organisation.  But a team is more that the members; many managers fail to grasp; instead they rely on some common misunderstanding of what teams are – and what they are not?

Some of the common myths and realities about teams are discussed below. Note 1

Myth 1:  Teams are harmonious

Teams are made up of diverse groups of people with different needs, expectations and beliefs.  This diversity can – and often does – lead to conflict. However, it is the diversity of the team that will lead to its success if harnessed appropriately.

Myth 2:  People like teams

Research has shown that approximately one third of the working population like teams, one third are indifferent to teams and one third dislike teamwork.  However, when teamwork is appropriately fostered, high performance outcomes can create an environment that employees want to work in. Success breeds success.

Myth 3: Teams are simple

Teams are complicated structures and should only manage complex and challenging issues.  If the task is simple, it should be left to an individual.

Myth 4: Teamwork is a soft option

Choosing to introduce teams is one of the most challenging management options.  Teamwork demands that members practice their skills to the full at all times and in a consistent manner. The rewards that flow from successful teams are what make the challenge worth the effort.

By understanding the many misconceptions surrounding teams, leaders can help minimise the chance of the team failing before it has the chance to begin.  Next we look at the stage a team must go through before it can be a success.

Note 1: Based on The Myths & Realities of Teams © Wright Consultancy; www.consultwright.com


Who is responsible for poor performance?

April 16, 2010

I was recently approached by a manager for help with an employee who ‘refused’ to change.  A twenty year veteran with the organisation, the employee had ‘seen off’ several managers.  A high performer when it was the way she wanted to work, the employee had successfully avoided all attempts to introduce new methods of working.  Managers, after a few forlorn attempts to introduce new ideas,  gave up and she was left to her own devices.

Who is at fault for this failure to change – the employee or the organisation?  In conversation with the manager, it became clear that previous manager’s had abdicated responsibility for the employee taking the line of least resistance.  While the employee does bear some responsibility for the pattern of behaviour, her resistant patterns have been rewarded by her various managers.  This way of working is what she knows best – ‘I like doing my job my way’.  Any new manager will be a brief nuisance and will soon see the light!

What is the answer?  As I have blogged previously, behaviour change requires consequences.  The current consequence for the employee of their refusal to change is to be allowed to continue as per usual.  For the manager to bring about change, there must be consequences – and these must outweigh the desire to continue the behaviour.  The most immediate consequence should be that the manager makes it clear that they will not be going away.


Managing your top teams anxiety

April 9, 2010

All of us suffer from anxiety; it happens when we face into a new, difficult or challenging situation. Anxiety in itself should never be an issue but it can be a problem if it is not recognised and managed.  Organisations that are undergoing upheavals are likely have increased levels of anxiety. Leaders need to learn to recognise and manage the anxiety in their top teams to ensure that it does not affect performance at a time when the they need to rely on the tope team more than ever.

People Management list some of the steps that can be taken to manage anxiety. Aimed at L&D specialists, the article is equally valid for Leaders. Some of the steps for managing anxiety include:

Validate feelings
Get your top team to talk about how they experience the pressures they face. As we often feel weak if we acknowledge being less than confident, this normalising of emotions can be helpful.  A leader can start the process by admitting that they have anxieties.

Challenge behaviour
Empathy is important but honesty is vital.  Leaders need to understand the negative impact on their team – and the wider organisation – of the failure to manage anxiety. Direct criticism may evoke defensiveness; simply describe how the organisation experience the practical consequences of this behaviour.

Identify triggers
Having helped your team understand the impact of their behaviour, work to identify key situations, people or events that trigger anxiety. The more we are aware of our default position(s), the better we can resist them.

In the pressure cooker of modern organisations, it can be seen as weak to acknowledge the existence of anxiety.   It is the Leader’s responsibility to address this issue – failure to do so can increase the likelihood of a failure of performance.


Coaching V Mentoring V Consulting

March 11, 2010

I am spending an increasing amount of time coaching executives – reflective of the exciting business world. One challenge that I face is that the coachee wants a solution and, quite often, wants it now.  This can be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of coaching and mixing it up with mentoring – an experienced person sharing wisdom – or a consultant – an experienced person brought into to provide a solution. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find their own solution.  Getting these distinctions across at the beginning of a coaching assignment is crucial.

I came across a great summary in Excellence in Coaching edited by Jonathon Passmore:

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you driving the car
  • A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from their own experience of driving cars
  • A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car