I recently had a brief exchange with an existing client organisation that speaks volumes about how a great number of businesses are managed today – the need for improvement is driven by crisis. Instead of being intentional about pursuing excellence, improvement has become a synonym for recovery. More and more the manager’s job has become the never-ending search for the next hole in the cost report that needs to be filled or the next deviation from “the plan” that needs to be corrected.
Having been involved in strategic planning over my corporate career, I thought it pretty standard that the purpose of strategy development was to come up with a “strategic plan”. A document that dutifully incorporated a vision and mission, that laid out the numerical aspirations for revenue growth or gross margin, that identified the sources of new revenue or margins improvements and then, once beautifully edited and designed, made its way onto the managing director’s shelf…never to be seen again.
It certainly wasn’t lost on those of us on the management team that creating a plan for attaining an uncertain future in an uncertain environment was “challenging” and required a leap of faith in our ability to foresee the future. Nonetheless, it was the thing that management teams did to provide good governance and strong leadership, so we conformed to this traditional thinking. We lifted the bar by presenting this carefully crafted plan to our senior leadership in a clear and polished manner to show them that their management team had its hands firmly on the reins – we could see the future and it was clearly in our strategic sights. What we didn’t do was make a difference…
Projects are enablers. They are investments that your organisation makes to enable the business outcomes that help deliver your vision. Whether those outcomes are improved operational efficiency, a new revenue stream or improving your customer’s experience, projects are the stepping stones to a thriving business.
Unfortunately, far too often projects fail to deliver the promised return on that investment. For the majority of organisations, they fail to provide that enabling step more than half the time. Many projects will languish in an incomplete state while the project team tries to find the time to finish them. Some of the most aspirational don’t get off the ground because it never seems to be the right time for working on aspiration. The most critical projects will often get done under the pressure of deadline but fail to produce particularly innovative or cost-effective results.
I’ve been struck by how consistently I see, read and hear that price (or expenditure) and service are a zero-sum game – to increase (or maintain) service, the price must go up; to reduce price, the service levels must go down. Our politicians tell us that to maintain levels of social service (without ballooning deficits) they need to increase sources of tax revenue, or, vice versa, depending on the political message du jour. Businesses that operate in price-competitive markets often look to find their customers’ point of pain…what services can be reduced, eliminated, or made “cost adders” before the customer cries foul and takes their business elsewhere.
Today’s business world tends to value activity over accomplishment – we look to ensure our people are “being productive”, highly utilised, busy. However, in the business of busyness, doing lots of things doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completing those things. There comes a point where additional activity starts to mean that instead of creating more business value, you actually create less. It is by matching the organisation’s capacity to the most important activities that you accomplish more and get better business outcomes.
A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a business improvement initiative by one of my contractor clients. The initiative was intended to create better process and structure around their project management systems with a particular focus on project controls. After an initial kick-off meeting which included the executive sponsor, the improvement team met several more times before the momentum faded and the initiative eventually died.
A number of things struck me about this experience. Read more →
We tend to think of leadership as something that the head of a group or team provides to those under their charge – direction, inspiration, motivation, vision, and decisive decision-making – a package of skills that managers need to possess if they are to lead people. These traditional leadership activities are what I refer to as “transactional leadership”. Transactional leadership qualities are absolutely necessary and have their time and place but their impact is relatively short-lived and can create a level of dependency on the leader. When a tough decision is required, it is shunted to the project manager; when direction is required, the team look for it to be given rather than forging it for themselves; when inspiration is needed, the team waits for it to come rather than creating it. Read more →