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?

“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 can we learn for business 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……

 What are the management lessoons from the Battle of Britain?What are the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?What are the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

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 (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/04/28/the-5-whys/)

The importance of standard routines and procedures

pioneer_cement_ford

“Routine sets you free”
Verne Harnish – founder of Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (YEO)

One of the biggest issues faced by businesses as they grow is managing the growth. This is because their management systems come under strain.
Many businesses begin when a ‘technician’, for example, a tradesman such as an electrician decides that they want to go into business as they have the technical expertise. The new entrepreneur thinks that because they understand the technical work they also understand how the business operates.

This is a myth according to author Michael Gerber. In his book published over 20 years ago called The E-Myth (http://www.slideshare.net/makofranca/the-emyth-by-michael-gerber) he introduces the concept that very successful businesses have very simple and robust business systems that do not require exceptional managers. The more automatic and simplified your management system the more effective is your business. What Gerber is explaining is a franchise system.

Very early in my corporate career I worked for a business called Pioneer Concrete Services Ltd (http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/pioneer-international-limited-history/). The company grew from a single pre-mixed concrete plant in Sydney in the early 1950s to a major industrial corporation operating in 11 countries within 30 years. The founder was an accountant called Sir Tristan Antico who was obviously not a concrete ‘technician’. The primary foundation of the pre-mixed concrete business was a concept called ‘cell management’, where the plant manager was responsible for marketing, production, human resources, sales, quality and profitability. As a young graduate it was an exciting and challenging work environment where you quickly learnt business management skills or left.

Antico designed a very simple management system. Remember this was before computers. Each fortnight the manager reported their profit and loss using standard forms, showing gross margins, sales and profits. Once again using standard forms materials purchases and usage were reconciled monthly. The company could tell very quickly, regionally, nationally and internationally how it was travelling using this standardised and disciplined system. What I learnt at Pioneer I carried on to other companies I worked for and then to our own business.

As Vern Harnish says “Routine sets you free”

This disciplined, routine and systematic management system allowed Pioneer to expand quickly into international markets well before other competitors. Their business system was scaleable without the administrative and management bottlenecks often encountered when companies grow. One of my former managers said a trained monkey could run the Pioneer Concrete system.

As Warren Buffett, the great American investor said:

‘Buy into a business that’s doing so well an idiot could run it, because sooner or later, one will,’”

This was one of the main keys to Pioneer’s success. Interestingly, a new CEO recruited from outside the organisation and therefore with no allegiance to the cell management system took over. The cell management system with its standardised and disciplined management system was abandoned. The business was subsequently acquired by a major international competitor and a major Australian industrial icon was lost.

The question for any business owner is:

“Are your business systems scaleable so that your company can manage its growth without losing control allowing you to work on the business rather in it?”

Procrastination and egos cost businesses..

procastination-1

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”
Elbert Hubbard : writer, publisher and philosopher

How often, as business owners and managers do we procrastinate on making decisions because of the feared consequences?
Sometimes we procrastinate making the most obvious decisions and further compound indecision by allowing our egos to rule rather than practical common sense. Let me give you an example.

Recently a friend was caught up in a situation that not only cost the business significant money but was a major distraction for the business in general. An employee who was still within their probationary period was responsible for bullying two other employees causing them to leave. Despite advice that the offender should be terminated without recourse as they were within their probationary period, the owner procrastinated and the offending employee remained employed after their probationary period. The owner then decided to act on the advice and terminate the employee, who immediately filed for ‘unfair dismissal’. Australia’s employment laws make it quite difficult to terminate employees after their probationary and court imposed penalties are high.

The owner was advised to make a one off payment to make the problem ‘go away’. He refused, stating it was against his principles to make such a payment. Lawyers were engaged, time was spent to present the case to the government tribunal and everybody was distracted. The indirect cost was considerable. The offender then doubled their demand for ‘go away’ money. The final outcome was a large legal bill, plus a payout to the ‘offender’ and wasted time and effort by the business owner and advisors.

All this was avoidable. The offender should have been terminated within their probation period. (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/06/23/the-effect-of-disruptive-employees-in-the-workplace/) Their actions had already resulted in two long term employees leaving the business which was poor management. The second piece of advice to pay out the claim would have also solved the problem. However, pride and ego rather than common sense ruled the roost.

In business sometimes we have to put our pride and ego aside and make a decision that is best for the business. I have been guilty of this in my career, however several painful experiences have caused me to reflect my actions.

Can you think of an example where you procrastinated or allowed your ego to either delay making a decision or discarded common sense advice and made the wrong decision?

Christmas is coming again…………

5-reasons-to-attend-holiday-parties-this-month-1024x678

“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day”
Phyllis Diller – comedian

Last year I wrote a blog before Christmas about using Christmas as a time to invigorate your staff and business and celebrate their achievements and commitment. A time to build goodwill (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2015/12/10/christmas-its-that-time-of-year-again) and for managers to ‘rise to the occasion’ and display leadership.

Despite Christmas being a time of joy and celebration it can also be, unfortunately a disaster for both businesses and staff. Every year we hear stories of work Christmas parties that go wrong…..drunkedness, inappropriate and embarrassing behaviour, work accidents and the like. Often management or the organisation is blamed for the outcomes. It all the more disappointing when it is traditionally a period of cheer and goodwill.
So what should you as a manager or business owner do to protect yourself and staff from a bad outcome for your staff at Christmas?

What are the ‘rules’?

Below is a link from Broadspring Consulting that has some Office Christmas Party Success Tips:

Christmas Parties And Avoiding The Hangover

Also remember as an employer, the onus of proof is on you. Christmas parties should be more than about having fun. It’s a good time to reflect on achievements of the business and staff. This should obviously come from the most senior manager, whether the CEO, owner or Department Manager. It’s a time to display leadership and celebrate your business and staff’s achievements and also to thank them for their efforts. It is also an opportunity to set the tone for next year.

So what are you planning for your work Christmas party that will achieve these aims?

Is marriage like running a business?

Leonard (Linky) Jensen I (1887-1979) at the wedding of Daisy Jensen (1892-1986) and Francis (Frank) Joseph Woods (1891-1972) in 1918 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

“A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day”
Andre Maurois – French author

Today is a very important day for me. It is my 30th wedding anniversary – a time for great celebration and reflection. I am truly blessed having shared the past 30 years with my wonderful wife in a great marriage with all its joys and challenges.

Can lessons can be learned from a great marriage that can be applied to managing a successful business?

Yes, there are many………

Here are just three lessons from a successful marriage that can be applied to business.

Lesson 1: Communication

Continuous two way frank and honest communication is the hallmark of a successful marriage. Problems can be aired, solved constructively and the future discussed. It is the same in business – communication with staff, between departments and with customers provide the mechanics of a successful business. Goals and successes can be shared and problems solved. Communication is about caring and sharing. Customers and staff do not want to be left ‘in the dark’. Two-way continuous communication helps ensure staff and customers feel valued and are committed to you and the organisation. Too often we become complacent and fail to communicate regularly. I can remember some years ago a situation where I increased the rates to a customer without communicating the reasons. They immediately sought competitive proposals and then advised us they wanted to leave. Luckily our Operations Manager was able to remedy the situation by discussing the reasons for the increase only to find that the order and customer profile had changed significantly and the rate schedule was now no longer suitable. Frank two way communication had not occurred, we did not know the profile had changed and we had not advised the reasons for the increase. It was a lesson learned.

Lesson 2: Commitment

Any relationship or partnership is not all smooth sailing, whether it is managing a business or a marriage. For example, challenges are thrown up on the marriage journey that must be faced. Many are outside our control. Reflecting on the past 30 years of our marriage we had to face the challenges along the way. Whether the challenges were family issues or geographic isolation from family and friends, we were committed to making it a success. The same can be said for businesses. If you are committed in managing a business effectively or growing a business you need to meet the challenges as they emerge. Often in business we face crises that could destroy the business. I can remember a situation when a customer owed us over $350,000 and claimed they could not pay. If they failed to pay, our business would probably have been destroyed. Luckily through commitment in enforcing a payment plan we were able to get the money owed and save the business.

Lesson 3: Celebration

Too often we do not celebrate what is important, whether in business or in a marriage. Celebrating our marriage success such as anniversaries or milestones.

Business is no different. Looking back in our business we rarely celebrated successes such as winning a new contract. Later we found out that staff wanted to know our success and suggested we should celebrate with a BBQ or luncheon. However we did recognise staff service and made a big deal about its importance. Our business had staff that had been with us from the beginning and were still there 15 years later. We celebrated this by presenting awards and a gift at our annual management conference.

As the quote from Andre Maurois suggests success in marriage is about continuously rebuilding. The same goes for managing a successful business.

Communication, Commitment and Celebration is a good start. Complacency leads to stagnation and more often than not, failure.

What are your plans to continuing improve your organisation and business?

Business continuity …….. do you have a plan?

elephant in room - 2

What would happen if you did not turn up to work today?

This is a very important question for business owners.

Would your business continue to operate?

Can it continue to grow and can you sell it?

In a recent bog, I wrote about my friend Tim Boyle, Australia’s first kidney lower intestine transplant recipient and his positive attitude in the face of a seemingly impossible situation (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2016/01/21/a-new-beginning/). This helped him get through a complex and lengthy surgical operation and be out of hospital in five weeks. At the time of writing this blog Tim is recovering well.

As a finance broker, he was passionate about providing people with opportunities to own their own home. Over the long years while he was waiting for a suitable donor, Tim continued to build his business and put in place contingencies for the business to operate without him. Whilst recovering in hospital he talked to staff at all levels explaining how important it is own your own home. I witnessed nurses coming up to him and thanking him for giving them hope. His business continued to operate.

However the real message was that his business continued to operate whilst ‘not being there’. His staff of two continued to work without him being there.

Why?

Because there was a business continuity plan – it could operate without Tim, the owner being present.

This is one of the biggest issues for small to medium sized (SMEs) owners – the elephant in the room. Would your business survive without you coming into work?

If your business cannot operate without you, then your business is vulnerable. This goes to the next step. Should you wish to sell your business in the future, and the business is dependent on you on a daily basis then the value to a potential buyer is significantly lower.

The following link summarises how it is important to be a ‘leader’ rather than a ‘doer’, otherwise your business cannot operate (or grow) without you.

http://www.thegrowthcoachhouston.com/strategic-business-owners-leverage-their-leadership/

Putting it bluntly, the first step is to put your ego aside and plan to have your business operate without you……………you can go on holidays, be absent, protect your wealth, family relationships and your health.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain………….

What is your plan?

boer maak ‘n plan

In Afrikaans, the language spoken by the mainly Dutch immigrant descendants living in South Africa ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ means a ‘farmer makes a plan’.  The deprivations and harshness of farming in a foreign land brought resolve and the need to plan to get around or solve these problems.  Having travelled recently in Southern Africa I came across another similar saying in Zimbabwe where people often spoke about ‘making a plan’.

What does the saying really mean?

Not as it appears literally. The ‘hidden’ meaning is that you have an alternative plan (a plan B) when your first plan fails or is impossible to implement. In other words, you need to be flexible and adaptable to solve a problem.

How does this equate to being a manager or managing a business?

As business owners or managers, we need to plan in the first instance. As the saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. See the blog by http://www.stewartclark.com.au/blog/fail-to-have-a-business-plan-is-planning-to-fail-in-business_105s41

However, having a rigid plan may not work if circumstances change. Let me give you an example?

Many years ago in our third party logistics business we were having difficulty in getting our trucks unloaded on time at a retailer’s distribution centre despite meeting their strict time slots. It was OK for the distribution centre to run late unloading you, however if you failed to arrive at the designated time slot you were ‘fined’. What made the situation even worse was that to make the early morning delivery time slots, trucks had to battle peak hour traffic to and from the distribution centre as well as the loading delays. This became an expensive experience – instead of 3 hours it was taking 6 hours to deliver and unload. It was further compounded by our fixed price delivery charge.

We had many meetings with distribution centre management and despite their assurances that the situation would improve, it did not.

What would solve our problem and be a ‘win’ for the distribution centre? Our Plan B.

Making some observations and talking to the receiving team at the distribution centre a plan emerged. All loads were hand unloaded (rather than on pallets) onto a conveyor with the individual cartons being scanned as they travelled up the belt. The distribution centre had a prime mover that was used for moving trailers around the receiving area.

We asked distribution centre management whether we could trial loading a 40’ container instead of an ordinary tautliner semi-trailer. We would bring the loaded container in early in the morning before peak hour, leave it in the receiving area for the distribution centre prime mover to move onto the unloading conveyor when it suited the receiving team. The empty container would then be picked up on the next early morning delivery. After a short trial, it was found that it was a win/win for both us and the distribution centre. Delivery time halved with a massive increase in margin for us and the distribution centre was able to utilise their receiving area far more efficiently.  

The success of the trial enabled us to purchase two second hand and obsolete hand semi-trailers for 10% of their replacement value and establish a unique closed loop delivery system that was extremely profitable.

We solved the waiting time problem and the peak hour travel problem which initially appeared to be unresolvable. We significantly increased our profits by having a Plan B.

Remember in any situation, you should always have a Plan B like the farmer faced with the unpredictability of the harsh African environment…….

What is NOT Leadership?

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Too often we spend time on creating ‘To Do Lists’. Would we be more effective managers if we created ‘Stop Doing Lists’? Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great (http://www.jimcollins.com) certainly thinks so.

We often hear or read about definitions or examples of great leadership. So is it important to recognise the opposite of good leadership in either ourselves or others?

John Cleese the famous comedian and Antony Jay one of the authors of TV show “Yes Minister” made a fortune from training videos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Arts) that emphasised what not to do as a manager. So maybe this approach works!

The recent drugs saga in the Australian Football League (AFL) surrounding the Essendon Football Club which began in 2011 (and is still ‘unresolved’ at the time of writing) provides some good examples of ‘how not’ to be a leader.  In summary, a biochemist began a Club sanctioned supplements program with the aim of improving player and team performance. The team members were injected with unknown substances with the knowledge of the coaching staff and Club executives. While the drugs  may have been illegal (no records were kept so the drugs remain unidentified) there were further unanswered questions about possible long term health effects on the players. A lack of duty of care.

The club was fined, some board members resigned and players were provisionally suspended for the pre-season Cup pending further hearings. The head coach, the person responsible for the players went on ‘study leave’ to Europe for a season whilst still collecting his substantial salary taking no responsibility for the supplements taking regime that occurred under his management. On 1 October 2014, the club announced that they would not appeal the Federal Court’s ruling, stating that to do so would act against the interests of the players. However, the head coach appealed the Federal Court decision acting in an individual capacity and “on a matter of principle”.

This brief summary highlights some three clear examples of poor leadership and like the John Cleese training films tell us, what not to do as leaders.

  1. You don’t take responsibility when something goes wrong

It’s OK while things are going well however when something goes wrong you start to look for someone or something else to blame. Leaders take responsibility whether it’s good or bad. Taking responsibility makes you a leader. That is why people follow you. Clearly the head coach did not take responsibility for what was occurring.

  1. You put yourself first and not your team.

While the Club refused to appeal the Court decision as they deemed it would “not act against the interests of the players”, the head coach did appeal on a ‘matter of principle’ effectively putting his interests ahead of the team. It could also be argued also that the subjecting those whom you are responsible for to unknown dangers (i.e. unknown drugs in this case) is poor leadership.

3. Complacency or failure to ask questions

As the team coach, complacency or just plain incompetence for allowing an unregulated sports supplements program to be undertaken when you were ultimately responsible. As a leader you have very important responsibilities, one of which is to ask questions whether it is to ensure the safety of those you are responsible for, get the best from suppliers or seek answers to improve performance.

So as a leader, the people you are leading whether they are subordinates or people who choose to follow you, expect you to take responsibility, put the team first, actively lead the team, ask the right questions and look after their welfare……………failure to do so is NOT leadership.