As a manager will the ‘cobra effect’ come back to bite you?

“The best way to increase wolves in America, rabbits in Australia, and snakes in India, is to pay a bounty on their scalps. Then every patriot goes to raising them”
— Mark Twain – American author and humourist

As a manager will the Cobra effect come back and bite you?

So, what is the cobra effect?

During the times of British Colonial India in the city of Dehli, government officials were terrified by the large number of venomous cobra snakes in the city and sought to solve the problem.

The solution?

The government offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially the strategy was successful as large numbers of snakes were killed. However, some of the enterprising citizens of the city began breeding cobras as a source of income. After a while, the government officials began to realise that there were too many cobra skins being handed in, so the scheme was terminated.

What was the outcome?

The ‘enterprising’ cobra breeders on seeing that their snakes were worthless, set them free. This increased the number of snakes, wriggling, loose, wild and free in the city making the initial problem worse.

In French Colonial Indochina a similar situation occurred in Hanoi. The colonial officials deemed there were too many rats, so a bounty scheme was introduced. Not for dead rats, but for their tails. Before long, the officials noticed the city was full of tail-less rats. The ‘enterprising’ bounty hunters didn’t kill the rats, they just cut off their tails and released them back into the sewers. There they continued to breed which further increased the rat catchers’ income.

In more recent times we have seen another example of the ‘cobra effect’. In the 1980s, the USA provided money, military equipment and support to the Mujahideen insurgents fighting to overthrow the Russian army and the Marxist government in Afghanistan. One of the insurgent leaders was al-Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden. With the fall of the government, Bin Laden was provided a base from where to plan the 9/11 attacks in 2001. This in turn lead to the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent misery and death that continues to this day.

In conclusion what is the ‘cobra effect’?

It’s an anecdote where a problem’s attempted solution only makes it worse through unintended consequences.

As managers how can we take into account the ‘cobra effect’ in our jobs?

It’s important to remember that there is a section of any group of people who have a tendency to take advantage of a solution that tries to effect how people behave, like breeding cobras or cutting off the tail of rats. This may not be intentional, although it often is. They take short-term advantage of the system, even though it may lead to unintended consequences and more complex problems.

In our logistics business we had a major Australian retailer as a customer. They used our services to manage the opening and stocking of their new flagship store. One of the KPIs for retail store managers was sales per square metre. The ‘whiz kids’ at head office deemed that in-store replenishment storage of stock should be negligible as this reduced the sales per square metre. As a result, insufficient space in the new flagship store was allocated to in-store storage. The result was stock could not be replenished in time by store staff, overall sales decreased, and additional staff were employed to manage stock flows into the store. The new store had to be redesigned and modified. We continued to manage an offsite replenishment warehouse of the retailer until the store was reconfigured. Good for our business, but not for the retailer’s shareholders.

How can you prevent the ‘cobra effect’ on your organisation?

It’s easy to have a bright new idea on paper. First order effects are easy to identify, second and further effects require much deeper consideration and are much harder to identify.

When you have a ‘brilliant idea’, I would recommend you get your best and brighest people together and ask them about the possible ‘cobra effects’ before implementing. An idea can be fine-tuned by spending the time as suggested and hopefully any negative impacts will be minimised.

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Management lessons from the sinking of the Bismarck

Management lessons from the sinking of the Bismarck?

“Sink the Bismarck”

Quote attributed to British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill in 1941

Just over 80 years ago this month, the Bismarck was sunk.

What was the Bismarck?

The Bismarck was a World War II German battleship. With over 2000 sailors, it was the flagship of the German Navy and was the largest battleship then commissioned. In late May 1941, the recently launched Bismarck and another German warship, the Prinz Eugen evaded the British Navy and escaped from the Baltic Sea into the Atlantic Ocean. Their mission was to destroy as much Allied shipping as possible, and together with the U-boats, force the suspension of the supply convoys from the USA, vital for Britain’s survival.

The Bismarck was the most advanced battleship at the time. More modern, faster and more heavily armed than any ship in the British Navy. The Bismarck had a special anti-torpedo belt made of nickel-chrome steel. The Germans believed that no torpedo could penetrate the shield and were convinced that the Bismarck was almost unsinkable. Furthermore, the Bismarck had a sophisticated anti-aircraft fire control system to protect it from attacking aircraft.

The British Navy sent the flagship of the Home Fleet and their largest warship, the HMS Hood and another ship the Prince of Wales to hunt down the Bismarck. In the ensuing battle in the North Atlantic, the Hood was sunk within three minutes and over 1400 sailors lives were lost. Only three survived. The loss of the Hood was a significant blow to British morale. Although also hit, the Prince of Wales managed to damage the Bismarck before retreating from the battle. This forced the Bismarck to abandon its raiding plans.

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill then issued the order “Sink the Bismarck!” and the relentless pursuit of the two German warships by dozens of British Navy ships began.

The damaged Bismarck, leaking oil, limped towards Nazi occupied France where protective air cover and a destroyer escort were waiting. However, by a stroke of luck an RAF Catalonia flying boat sighted the Bismarck’s oil slick and reported her position. From then on, the British Navy used radar to track it and over a dozen warships followed the battleship.

One of the British ships shadowing the Bismarck was the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. On it were 16 obsolete open cockpit Swordfish bi-planes. With time running out, and with the Ark Royal being the closest ship to the Bismarck it was decided to attack the Bismarck from the air. In atrocious weather and in the fading light the slow-moving Swordfish attacked using torpedoes. Bismarck’s sophisticated anti-aircraft guns were too advanced to shoot down the slow-moving bi-planes. In the final attack, a single torpedo hit the Bismarck’s rudder and steering gear, and from then on it was unable to maneuver. It could only steam in a wide circle.

Unable to repair its rudder and steaming in a circle the Bismarck was doomed. The next morning the British Navy opened fire on the crippled battleship. With its large guns partially out of action, and unable to maneuver, the Bismarck was sunk within two hours, on its maiden voyage, with the loss of over 2,000 men.

What do you think are the management lessons from the sinking of the Bismarck?

Here are three lessons to consider.

1. Do not rely on technology.  The Germans considered the Bismarck as virtually unsinkable with superior firepower, advanced torpedo shields and sophisticated anti-aircraft guns. However, the low-level technology of the Swordfish bi-planes managed to cripple the Bismarck.

2. Technology is an enabler. It indirectly resulted in the sinking of the ship. The British used radar, which was a very new technology to track the Bismarck. Without it, the Bismarck would have escaped to the safety of Occupied France.

3. Persistence pays off. Despite the superiority and perceived danger of the Bismarck to Britain and its navy, a well-planned and persistent chase managed to find and sink the Bismarck. Furthermore, in the dying light in atrocious weather and against all odds, a single outdated Swordfish bi-plane managed to damage the Bismarck just when it looked like the Bismarck would escape the Royal Navy.

What other lessons can you find?

Remember: We can learn from history.  The use of well-known historic examples helps paint a more vivid picture and storytelling helps communication.

What is a SWOT?

What is a SWOT?

‘Proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance. ’

Stephen Keague – Irish author

The aim of this section is to explain the benefits of performing a SWOT analysis on your organisation. It is not how to perform a SWOT – which can be found on the internet and in management books – but why SWOTs should be done and who should conduct them to achieve the best outcome.

What is a SWOT analysis?

SWOT is an acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis is an organised list of a business’s greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a planning tool which businesses can use at any time to assess a changing environment and respond proactively.

Here are some important SWOT concepts:

  1. SWOT analysis is part of a business review.
  2. Strengths and weaknesses are generally internal to the business – for example, internal resources and capabilities such as people’s skill levels, business processes and assets.
  3. Opportunities and threats tend to be external to the business – such as the economy, competitors, new technology and suppliers.
  4. Strengths and opportunities are positive to the business.
  5. Threats and weaknesses are normally negative to the business.
  6. The outcome of a SWOT analysis should result in a dynamic action plan, not a static statement.

The major problem with a SWOT is that too often it results in a list of statements for each of the four components. It is not an action plan. This is the challenge for management. Each of the four sections of the quadrant are linked to each other, so a list of actions can be created. These are shown below.

 Figure 6: Four Quadrants of a SWOT

Here are the six questions that should be asked:

  1. Strengths – Weaknesses: What actions can be implemented using the organisation’s strengths to overcome the identified weaknesses?
  2. Opportunities – Threats: What actions resulting from the identified opportunities can be used to overcome or reduce the threats?
  3. Strengths – Opportunities:  What are the actions that can leverage off your organisation’s strengths and take advantage of the identified opportunities?
  4. Strengths – Threats:  Using the organisation’s strengths, what actions can eliminate or reduce threats to your organisation?
  5. Opportunities – Weaknesses: Considering the opportunities, what actions can be taken to overcome the organisation’s weaknesses?
  6. Weaknesses – Threats: What actions are required to overcome the organisation’s weaknesses, to assist in preparing to face threats, both now and in the future?

Action Plans from a SWOT

In answering these questions and forming the resulting actions, plans can be developed which can then become part of the strategic business plan. Performing a SWOT analysis is a vital part of creating a business plan and should be done every 12 months. I recommend conducting a strategy review meeting at least once a year, beginning with a SWOT analysis. In my experience, SWOT sessions should be performed with the management team, preferably with an independent facilitator. The independent facilitator is less likely to have a personal agenda and can impartially manage the discussions. When a new client first meets with me, we normally complete a SWOT session. This session may extend over two to three meetings depending on what is found. This establishes the groundwork for understanding the business and the foundations of a business plan.

In over 15 years in our logistics business, we only performed a SWOT session twice. Looking back, this was a major strategic error. We missed out on opportunities and failed to act on some of our weaknesses. There were many reasons for this, including the reluctance to face the brutal facts, less than rigorous discipline by some partners and reluctance to seek professional external advice and assistance. We did, however, compile an annual budget in which our performance was measured each month but, in hindsight, a SWOT with a corresponding business plan would have been more beneficial.

When was the last time you performed a SWOT analysis session with your team?

Were the resulting plans of action completed?

Did they form part of the business plan?

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Who’s managing the meeting?

Meetings

Who’s managing the meeting?

‘Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything’

John Kenneth Galbraith – Canadian writer and economist

Each December we send out the monthly management blog early, and not on 21st of the month as is the standard. Here is the December blog:

The quotation by Galbraith sums up what many of us experience with meetings. Are meetings of value and do they contribute to improving the operation of a business?

Value is often an intangible concept. The best place to start when deciding whether to hold a meeting is to calculate the cost of holding a meeting. Using a ‘back of an envelope’ style calculation, add up the costs of salaries and their on-costs in time spent at the meeting, preparing for the meeting and following up post-meeting – as well as travel to and from the meeting and other costs, including meals and accommodation. The cost can be frightening.

Once calculated, determine the outcome of the meeting. For example, if the meeting cost $2,000, did the outcome to the business exceed this amount and warrant holding the meeting? This can give you a benchmark on whether the meeting is worth holding. Never hold a meeting which does not have an agenda that will lead to a clear outcome. The purpose of the meeting must be clear.

I was consulting to a business which held a weekly meeting by telephone, attended by state managers and operations supervisors. The agenda never changed. Literally dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) were tabled by branch, the managers were often late calling in and took calls on their phones, the meeting chair rarely kept to the agenda, and the length of the meeting varied from 30 to 60 minutes. Action points were rarely completed on time. Furthermore, the business was in financial trouble. Clearly, these meetings were symptoms of what was wrong with the business.

What are the lessons to be learnt from this example?

  1. Tailor the meeting agenda to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Clearly communicate the aim of the meeting.
  3. Set strict starting times and allocate minimal meeting time for the agenda.
  4. Only invite the right people to the meeting.
  5. Turn mobile phones off.

Meetings can take up to 40% of a manager’s working time – and much of this time is lost in idle banter, people being late, and people using meetings to delay decisions and offload their responsibilities. Meetings are a necessary evil in an organisation, however the number of meetings held and the way they are conducted must be managed with discipline. Otherwise, money is wasted, staff become demotivated, people are not held accountable and little is achieved to meet the organisation’s overall goals. For example, one of my partners in our former business – who was responsible for an operation that was performing poorly – would claim in the management meeting that he would implement a plan of action to rectify performance by a set date. Each month we were given the same story and, unsurprisingly, the performance never improved. This not only affected our profitability but also demotivated others and sent a poor message about accountability.

Most people are motivated when they see things being achieved. Meetings can do this, providing there are strict disciplines imposed on behaviour, procedures and actions while also holding people to account. Performance and outcomes must be measured. Some of the most effective meetings are short stand up 15-minute meetings, where information is disseminated, issues discussed, and time-bounded action points with assigned responsibilities are included.

There are three golden rules for conducting a successive and constructive meeting:

  1. The chair should conduct the meeting in a disciplined and professional manner, keep on track and have a clear aim or desired outcome.
  2. All participants must be prepared, be on time, have a positive attitude and be respectful.
  3. At the end of the meeting, the outcome should be confirmed, action points with deadlines agreed and assigned.

Are meetings in your business meeting these criteria?

How can you minimise the time spent in meetings and the number of meetings, while achieving the desired outcomes for the business?

In conclusion, meetings are good indicators of the health of an organisation. The responsibility of managing and conducting meetings is up to you. They can be vehicles for desired and positive outcomes or, conversely, an opportunity to avoid responsibility and waste everybody’s time and money.

On behalf of the 5-Dimensionz team, we wish you and your families the blessings of Christmas and for a prosperous and wonderful 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year 2020 has been very difficult for many people throughout the world.

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The Charge……the lessons

The Charge……the lessons

“ With bayonets drawn, they charged the town, they were a fearsome sight

But they had fulfilled their orders, they took the town by night”

From the poem “The Wells of Beersheba” by Warren Eggleton

105 years ago during World War I, British, Australian, New Zealand, French and Empire troops stormed ashore at Gallipoli in western Turkey on 25th April. The plan was to seize control of the strategic Dardanelles Strait and open the way for their naval forces to attack Constantinople, the capital of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. The campaign failed. The Turks never succeeded in driving the Allied troops back into the sea, and the Allies never broke out of their beachhead. After eight months of bitter fighting the peninsula was evacuated in December 1915.

On 25th April, each year ANZAC Day (the acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand with marches and ceremonies, even though the Allies were defeated. This year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANZAC Day will not be publicly celebrated, for the first time since 1916.

Ironically Australia’s first great World War I victory, the Charge of Beersheba that ended the Battle of Beersheba is barely remembered or celebrated. It is considered history’s last great cavalry charge and provides some great lessons for managers.

Beersheba (now Be’er Sheva, in modern-day Israel) is situated in desert terrain and was a strategically important town. Here the Allied advance into Palestine was blocked as it was protected by over 4,000 well-armed Ottoman Empire troops in trenches. Beersheba an important transport hub had water wells that were vital in the desert for both men and horses.

The battle for Beersheba began at dawn on 31st October 1917 when the British infantry began attacking with artillery and air support combined with infantry attacks. By mid-afternoon the British had failed to capture the town. The situation had become serious – horses and men needed water. In the late afternoon, looking at a potential defeat the order was given to the Australian Light Horse to charge the Turkish trenches protecting the town.  800 mounted Light Horsemen, armed with bayonets not cavalry sabres, charged over 6 kilometres of open ground towards Beersheba. Initially the Turks opened fire with shrapnel. This was ineffective against the widely spaced horsemen. They then used machine guns. which were quickly silenced by British artillery. The charge caught the Turkish defenders off guard. They failed to allow for the speed of the charge and had little time to recalibrate their weapons for close range fighting.  The Light Horsemen, whose horses could apparently smell the water, jumped over the trenches. Some men dismounted and attacked the enemy with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Others galloped ahead and captured the town and its vital water wells.

If the Allies had failed, over 60,000 troops would have been stranded in the desert without water. If they didn’t prevail, men and their horses who had already been without water for two days faced dying of thirst. It was also the first major victory for the British army over the Turks in World War I. More importantly, the Battle of Beersheba was a precursor to capturing the city of Gaza. The city barred the way north to the important cities of Jerusalem and Damascus. Within a week Gaza fell, and the Allies marched north routing the Turkish troops. The campaign to secure the Sinai Peninsula ensured the Suez Canal remained open to Britain and its allies and led to the collapse of the 400 year old Otterman Empire.

So, what are the lessons for managers from the Charge of Beersheba?

Here are three lessons, that as managers we can learn from the Charge of Beersheba.

  1. 1. A leader needs to be flexible. The Australian commander, General Chauvel had planned to make a dismounted attack on Beersheba but as evening approached, ran out of time. The alternative was to make a cavalry charge. The traditional strategy was to dismount and attack with rifles from a distance. In the open desert this would have made the Light Horsemen vulnerable to shrapnel and machinegun fire. Clearly a different approach was required so a new strategy was devised. The Light Horse attacked like a cavalry unit, with bayonets in their hands like sabres, thereby catching the Turks by surprise. Their speed and determination outweighed their limitations of protection and weapons.
  2. Planning. There is no substitute for sound planning. Fighting a war in a desert required careful planning as Beersheba was surrounded by desert. This posed obvious logistics challenges for moving troops and equipment, particularly mounted troops. British army engineers established forward supply dumps of water and reopened wells that had been blocked by the Turks. This secured sufficient water for the troops and horses as they moved across the desert. Although the town was protected by a system of trenches, there was no barbed wire on one side because the Turks believed they would not be attacked through the desert from the southeast. The British-led forces, by careful planning and doing their homework  proved this to be a false assumption. Logistics planning and doing your homework is critical whether in warfare or in business
  3. People. Success in any organisation depends hugely on the quality of the people. The importance of experience and training is critical. Many of the Light Horse men involved in the Charge of Beersheba were battle hardened from fighting on the beaches at Gallipoli, and most were tough Australian bushman who were experienced horsemen and used to tough living conditions having also trained extensively in Egypt for desert fighting before the Palestine campaign. The Turks led by German officers, were poorly trained as evidenced by them failing to set their rifle sights correctly and not being able to adjust to the changing circumstances.

What do you think the management lessons from the Charge of Beersheba are?

If you are in Australia or New Zealand on ANZAC Day please don’t forget to remember the sacrifices made by service men and women in your country’s defence.

Note: if you are interested in reading about this event in more detail, I would recommend reading the following books:

Paul Daley, Beersheba, Melbourne University Press, 2009

Roland Perry, The Australian Light Horse, Hachette Australia, 2009

Management lessons – why the Schlieffen Plan failed: the What vs the How

Management lessons – why the Schlieffen Plan failed: the What vs the How

“In western Europe the military machine, with its thousands of wheels, costing millions to maintain, cannot stand still for long. One cannot fight a war for one or two years, from position to position, in 12 day long battles until both combatants are completely exhausted and weakened and forced to sue for peace. We must attempt to defeat our enemies quickly and decisively.”

Count von Schlieffen, German strategist, 1905

What was the Schlieffen Plan?

Long before 1914, Germany was preparing for war. In 1905, Count von Schlieffen, the German Chief of Staff completed what became known as the Schlieffen Plan in which planning commenced in 1897, based on the theory that Germany would be at war with France and Russia at the same time.

The aim was not to fight the war on two fronts at the same time, in the West against France and in the East against Russia. The plan was to first defeat France within 6 weeks by invading through neutral Belgium and capturing Paris before Russia could mobilise its army. After the fall of France, German troops could then be diverted to the East and attack Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan failed spectacularly as World War I became a war of attrition, bogged down in trench warfare in eastern France and Belgium, well short of Paris. The Germans believed that neutral Belgium would not resist and that the British through their 1839 treaty with Belgium, allegedly described as a ‘scrap of paper’ by the German High Command would not come to the support of Belgium. Furthermore, the Germans believed that there was no need to fear the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which the Kaiser called a ‘contemptible little army’.

What are three management lessons from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan?

Lesson 1: inflexible and arrogant leadership leads to failure

Apparently over 80% of the German soldiers were not professional soldiers. The schedules were prepared by a military hierarchy for fit regular soldiers under ideal conditions, not for non-regular soldiers who were not for physically or emotionally fit to march 30 km per day with heavy packs. The German High Command refused to modify the plan when the advance faltered. There was no Plan B

Lesson 2: under estimating and not understanding your opponents and their tactics

The BEF was not expected to support Belgium but they helped delay the plan. This led to atrocities being committed often by the inexperienced and untrained German troops. The bureaucratic minds of the German planners justified these actions as nothing should stop the plan’s operation. These atrocities in turn assisted in portraying the image of the ‘evil Hun’, which mobilised public and political opinion, first in Britain and later in America, indirectly allowing America into the war several years later.

Lesson 3: not understanding and taking into account logistics in your plan

The Schlieffen Plan was partially successful in the first month of the war, as it resulted rapid penetration into France. However, the speed of the initial advance created its own problems, placing a strain on the supply lines as well as placing great strain on the German troops, where the majority were travelling on foot and also having to fight on the way. They became fatigued, sunburnt and developed blisters reducing their fighting capacity. The daily needs of feeding the hundreds of thousands of horses and men, and providing ammunition was a logistical nightmare (logistics in your business). The army moved away from the railheads at 30 kms per day resulting in the supplies being brought to the front by horses. It is estimated that the German army needed 3,900 tonnes of food and fodder each day, clearly a difficult task when overwhelmingly horses were used for transport. Clearly logistics limited the operational success of the plan.

There were other reasons for the failure of the Schlieffen. However, as managers that we can learn from the three management lessons from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan.

In conclusion, the questions you need to ask yourself are:

Post note: The Russian Army mobilised quicker than the Germans had predicted which meant a war on two fronts.

Is success a matter of luck?

Is success a matter of luck?

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

Jack Gibson – legendary Rugby League Coach

Unfortunately, too often these days we hear, that success is due to luck. Whether in the ‘old’ media or social media we hear the same story line – success is a matter of luck.

Is it really the case that success is a matter of luck?

Perhaps all we need to do is visit Zimbabwe and get an appointment with Dr Mulongo , a witch doctor or In’yanga. We could ask that a spell be lifted to initiate number 9 in list of the problems listed above that she claims she can solve, by ‘removing bad lucky’!

As a dare, on a visit to Bulawayo several years ago, I did visit Dr Mulongo and asked her whether she could assist the Wallabies, the Australian Rugby side to win more matches by casting a spell on their opposition. Sadly, since this visit their performance has deteriorated, especially against the All Blacks.

Contrast this approach with the late Jack Gibson, a legendary coach in Australia in Rugby League from the late 1960s to the mid- 1980s. He was known for his economy of words, and his notable and laconic quotes that showed great wisdom and are still referred to today.

Gibson was totally unafraid of relegating ‘big name’ players who did not perform. As the first coach to use computers to evaluate player performance, he introduced new innovations into the sport of Rugby League from other sports, including American football and basketball. He was a great proponent of careful planning and high levels of fitness and effectively changed the game to become more professional. This led to 5 consecutive premierships with 2 clubs.

During my period of over 20 years in business, there were many times where people considered that luck made it successful. However, I do not believe in luck creating success. Like Jack Gibson, I believe that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You make your own luck through sound leadership, preparation and hard work.

In the early years we were reliant on one of Australia’s largest retailers for over 80% of our business. We worked hard to build a close working relationship with them, focusing on them as a customer and exceeding their expectations. When they changed their distribution model, introduced electronic commerce and forcing suppliers to prepare their merchandise ‘store ready’, that is picked and packed with an electronic invoice for each store, we were ideally positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.

We worked with the retailer converting their suppliers into our customers. Once converted we worked hard at being ‘customer responsive’ and provided high level ‘hands on’ customer service. The business did not look back and many of these customers remained with the business until it was sold over 15 years later.

What are 3 lessons from this story?

  1. You make your own luck. This is done by being prepared, understanding your customers needs and the requirements and changes in the market place. If you are prepared you are in a prime position to take advantages of any opportunities that may arise.

This is how in the above example we were able to take advantage of the change in retailer-supplier relations.

  1. There is no substitute for hard work. As I tell my children, the only place where reward comes before work is in the dictionary Success comes from preparation, working hard, learning from your mistakes and never giving up.

In this example, when 80% of our business was leaving due to the change in the supplier relationship, our hard work with the retailer gave us the opportunity to work with them and convert their suppliers to become our customers.

  1. Focus on the customer. Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Without them you have no business. Focus on their needs, engage with them, meet them regularly, continually seek out their requirements and constantly remind them that you are looking after their interests.

By focusing on the major retailer who was our customer, we developed a constructive working relationship where they were able to recommend our services to their suppliers.

As a business owner or manager, is your style to believe in Dr Mulongo’s witch craft to ‘remove bad lucky’?

Or is your style more like the legendary Rugby League coach Jack Gibson, where careful planning and hard work leads to success?

Before you move forward take a look back……..

Before you move forward take a look back……..

‘’We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience’’

John Dewey – philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer

Each December instead of releasing my monthly blog on 21st of the month, I release it early in the month giving readers time to reflect before the Christmas ‘rush’. As it is coming up to the traditional Christmas and New Year holiday period in Australia where employees head off for holidays, it is a good time for managers and business owners to reflect on the previous year.

While it is normally considered a good time to plan for the year ahead, by setting goals and targets ready for the resumption of work after the holiday period, being well-rested, with batteries recharged ready for the challenge of the new year, it is also a good time to “look back”, that is to reflect on the previous year.

Is looking back bad?

No.

If you are not reviewing the previous 12 months you often lose perspective on what has been achieved and what has not worked out as planned. Here are three questions you should ask yourself and your team in looking back over the previous year.

  1. WHAT did we do well last year and WHY?

While it is important to recognise and celebrate wins, it is just as important to ask the questions

–  ‘How did we have these wins?’

– ‘What were the actions that we as a team took to get this great result?’

Note the reasons down, share these with the team and have a goal to continue this strategy.

  1. WHAT did we do badly this year and WHY?

Sadly, many of us blame others, and make excuses as to why things fail. It’s time to put our egos aside and be honest as to the causes of the failures.

– Where did we fail?’

– ‘Where did we not strive hard enough?

– ‘Where did we not act like a team?

– ‘When was the customer not put ahead of ourselves?

– ‘What happened and what did YOU do to contribute to that result?

Make a note of the answers to the above questions and ensure that we do not do that again. After all, as managers we are accountable!

  1. WHAT goals did we set this time last year that we did not achieve and WHY?

As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results”, so establishing the same goals and associated actions as last year will most likely give you the same result.

– ‘Why did we set them?

– ‘Why didn’t we achieve them?’

‘- Did these goals really matter?

– ‘Is it different this time?’

Discuss with your team as to whether the goals are still a priority, and should they be the same goals again for this year?

Having answered these questions, honestly and openly you and your team are ready to set goals and plans for the next calendar year.

Does your team have the skills, capabilities, work ethic and behavioural characteristics to be a ‘winning’ team for next year?

To my blog readers, best wishes for Christmas and 2019

What were the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

What were the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”

Winston Churchill

In the Battle of Britain, the history books champion the heroics of the fighter squadrons of the RAF in defeating the German Luftwaffe. Churchill seeks to reinforce this view through his famous quote about ‘the few’, being the fighter pilots of the RAF Fighter Command. In reality, the reasons for the British victory were far more complex.

The Battle of Britain is considered to have occurred between 10th July 1940 to 31st October 1940, commencing soon after the fall of France on 25th June, 1940. The German strategy was to obtain air superiority over Britain before Operation Sealion, Hitler’s invasion of Britain. The Luftwaffe had over 2,600 attacking aircraft, bombers and fighters whilst Fighter Command had only 640 fighter aircraft, although there were over 1300 other non-fighter aircraft such as bombers, transport and reconnaissance aircraft. When the Battle ended, the Luftwaffe had lost nearly 2,000 aircraft and over 2,600 airmen, compared to the RAF, who lost over 1,000 aircraft and just over 530 airmen.

So how did the RAF succeed against such odds?

There were a number of inter-related reasons, including German fighters flying at the end of their range, the use of radar by the British, poor German intelligence, the bravery and skill of the RAF pilots, higher attrition of German pilots compared to the British, the weather, and confused and changing German strategy. The German strategy for example, changed from attacking the ports and Channel convoys, to destroying the RAF, either on the ground or in the air, and then later bombing the cities and industrial sites in southern England. Furthermore, the German Luftwaffe headed by Goring, was both autocratic and bureaucratic.

However, the prime reason is considered to have been the tactics initiated by Air Marshall Hugh Dowding. Through the use of new technology, radar and a flexible command structure called the Dowding System, which moulded together technology, ground defences and fighter aircraft,  the RAF eventually repulsed the Luffwaffe. Interestingly, Blitzkreig’s initial success can be attributed to using technology and a flexible command structure. Britain was divided into four geographical areas called ‘Groups’ and then ‘Sectors’. Each ‘Sector’ had a fighter airfield with an Operations Room from where the fighters could be directed. As radar tracked the incoming Luftwaffe raids, information was sent to Group headquarters, then to the ‘Sectors’ where fighters would be scrambled and air defence stations notified, all in a short period of time. This strategy allowed the RAF to engage the enemy selectively and in a timely way. The RAF fighters did not engage German fighters unless they were escorting bombers, with Hurricane fighters attacking the German bombers and the Spitfire fighters waiting for the bombers to turn for France before attacking both fighters and bombers when they had little fuel or ammunition. It is a common misconception that the Spitfires and Hurricanes were offensive weapons. They weren’t. They were defensive interceptors, with the sole purpose to intercept bombers on the way in, and prevent them from carrying out their mission and hunting them down when they turned back to France. In reality, the bombers were the attack weapons, to attacking industrial centres, cities, shipping and ports.

What are the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

There are potentially 3 management lessons from the Battle of Britain.

  1. Flexible management systems are better than authoritarian and bureaucratic systems

For example, I was able to contribute the success of our logistics business by empowering supervisors to communicate directly with their assigned customers. This not only improved customer service but developed the supervisory and management skills of the supervisor.

  1. Technology is only an enabler

As an example, our logistics business was created from an opportunity when a major Australian retailer changed their supply chain systems, forcing suppliers to prepare their products in a store-floor ready condition. The enabler was technology (EDI), as it allowed for a more efficient management of the supply chain.

  1. Engage on your own terms

Too often, business owners try to be all things to all people and do not focus on their strengths and niche and end up competing against larger and better resourced competitors. For example, in our logistics business, we targeted to great success, smaller owner operated companies who did not want to deal with large impersonal organisations.

In conclusion, as managers and business owners we can learn some valuable lessons from the Battle of Britain. Technology is only an enabler. For example, AirBnB’s software has ‘enabled’ a new source of cheaper accommodation for travelers through the letting of private rooms and apartments that were not previously considered available. Flexible management systems that are agile will beat bureaucratic organisations everytime. Kodak, who initially invented the digital camera, failed to commercialise it successfully. And finally, engaging on your own terms where you have a competitive advantage and not go head to head with your competitors is a sensible strategy. A good example of this strategy is the success of Yellowtail Wines where a small Australian family owned wine company created a new market for wine in USA and avoided head-to-head confrontation with the major industry players.

There are valuable lessons for managers in studying history……

The lessons from railway tracks

The lessons from railway tracks

“Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats”

Alvin Toffler: author and futurist

The state of New South Wales (NSW) railways has a railway gauge (distance between the rails) called the standard gauge. It is 4 feet, 8.5 inches or 1.435 metres and is also the gauge used in Great Britain and USA. As an aside, there are 2 other railway gauges used in Australia. How they came about is a story for another blog.

The standard gauge is an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the railway gauge used in England, and NSW was formally a British colony.

Why did the British select this gauge?

Because the first railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-rail tramways. This was the gauge they used.

Why was this gauge used?

Because the engineers who built the tramways used the same jigs that were used for building wagons using the same wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have this wheel spacing?

Because the wagon wheels were the spacing of the old wheel ruts. Outside these spacing they would break through the old, long distance roads in England.

So who built the old rutted roads in England?

Imperial Rome over 2,000 years ago. Many of these old Roman roads have been used ever since.

And what formed the initial ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots.

So the NSW standard railway gauge were derived from the original specifications of an Imperial Roman war chariot.

What a great example of the power and life of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies can live forever.

When you are handed a specification, procedure or process and fail to understand the ‘logic’ or ‘reason’ you can make the statement:

‘What horse’s arse came up with this?’

And you may be right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

The moral of the story is to “aware of the power and intransigence of

bureaucracies”. This can be outside your organisation or within your organisation itself.

You need to keep asking the question ‘why’ to get the best outcome.