Sunday, March 26, 2017

Do You Still Use SWOT?

Some of the old business principles are still the best. Over the last 30 years many business theories have changed – but sadly, in many cases, not for the better and mostly for personal and/or commercial gain. Where academics and consultancies have re-packaged great business principles that should have been left alone and worse still repacked them as mediocre replicas just either to get their name associated with something supposedly new or for consultancies to try to make a quick buck with weakened solutions for business, or both.
One outstanding business tool for assessing an organizations; departments or even individuals current business environment, and at the same time helping develop a solid short/medium term strategy is the good ol’ SWOT analysis. This business tool, when used properly, has stood the test of time and when used correctly, as originally developed, adds real value to any organization.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and if done properly gives a solid insight into your organization and offers immediate detailed focus for solving current issues and for developing genuine workable strategies – where the operative words are ‘if done properly’.
Sadly most people who use SWOT no longer use it correctly and hence don’t get the benefit from this great business tool.
There are certain ‘criteria’ that must either exist or be applied for SWOT to work properly; and if any one of them are missing, then you will either get a sub-optimal or manipulated outcome, both of which are totally worthless.
Two of the criteria that must exist for SWOT to be meaningful are;
A Transparent Culture: Whether the SWOT is being completed by an organization, a department or an individual it will be worthless if the analysis is not completely honest. Often individuals and organizations find it hard to be honest about their weaknesses and threats; and can embellish their true strengths and weaknesses just because it makes them feel good – but of course this is meaningless for the genuine future of the business and gives a false picture and worse still a false sense of security.
Honest analysis of weaknesses, however hard these may be to hear at the top need to be welcomed; and teams and employees should be recognised and thanked for honest input – as these strong leaders know, anything else but raw honesty will have a detrimental impact on their future growth.
It is in your interests to ensure the SWOT is brutally honest and if it is the results will be ‘gold dust’ for the future of the organization. Employees are not fools and will give their full support to an honest SWOT analysis. Even more an ‘honest’ SWOT will build morale, trust and a cohesive working environment, regardless of how ‘bad’ the current business environment may be. Employees are ‘attracted’ to organizations and leaders that genuinely want to know what they can do to solve their employees problems; and who show an interest in what employees think the future could hold. This small step alone has a huge impact on building a positive culture and encouraging innovative thought. What employees genuinely dislike are organizations and/or leaders that embellish their strengths and refuse to admit their weaknesses – and this will ultimately lead to a dysfunctional relationship throughout the organization.
Completing SWOT Company Wide: A SWOT must not just be conducted at the top of an organization – but should be done bottom-up, involving the whole company, for it to have any genuine meaning. In fact some organizations that use SWOT well, even include other stakeholders in their SWOT in order to get a full picture from all perspectives. This takes strong and confident leadership and when applied develops even stronger stakeholder links; as they all feel part of the organization and genuinely appreciate being asked ‘what they think’.
Too many organisations still think SWOT is only a high-level exercise and often take themselves off to some luxury hotel for ‘Strat Sessions’ thinking they are the best people to decide the future of the organization. But without input from the grass roots these short-sighted organizations will never really understand their own organization and it’s real environment; strategies will be weak and won’t be owned by the employees and leadership will be command and control driven, as the employees haven’t had a voice, so they need to be told what to do, often without the ‘why’. And if they survive, these organizations will survive more by luck than good business or effective leadership, if they survive at all. What these organizations never realise is that they never reach their true potential.
Some really large corporates take this high-level approach and though their stakeholders may think they are operating well – they will never really be operating at their optimal level. I smile when I realize just how blind these leaders are to their mediocre success; even organizations that are revered in the press, often have dysfunctional management/employee relationships because they don’t involve their employees in the future of the organization.
So there’s no time like the present to start performing a SWOT correctly and if and when you do, you will and your organization will never look back. Done correctly and it will immediately have a positive impact on your organizational culture and all your future strategies and sustainable growth.
Some further quick tips and tricks would include;
A. Build the SWOT bottom-up;
B. Capture the results by department and form a matrix in the shape of your organizational pyramid;
C. Look for common themes with respect to the SWOT across the horizontal and vertical structure;
D. Where there are unique differences – find out why and where possible do a quick fix; maybe seconding employees from other areas to help;
E. Your short term is viewed by your current strengths and weaknesses; along with short term threats; but your medium and long term can look at removing/minimizing weaknesses and using your strengths to the maximum or developing new strengths to ‘capture’ an opportunity;
F. Keep the whole organization informed every step of the way; and remember
G. This is a dynamic tool – not a static one – once you’ve completed a fully comprehensive SWOT you should be able to review this on an annual basis or by exception as your environment changes.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is a Positive Organizational Culture Important?

Organizations have cultures that define them. In years past organizations would actually spend time trying to create a positive organizational culture that helped ensure employee satisfaction which then, in turn, positively supported optimal organizational performance.
It was recognised as a simple mathematical equation – a positive culture = a positive employee experience = optimal performance in the short and long term for the company.
The positive employee experience meant so many things to organizations. (1) That they could attract and retain the best talent; (2) that their culture encouraged, not least, inspiration and innovation amongst its employees; (3) they would have ‘natural’ leaders who would support their teams success (i.e. the employees are self-motivated to continuously improve individual and organizational performance); and (4) the culture would create positive energy that would be felt inside and outside of the organization, as the organizational culture supported not just their employees but their family lives as well.
Now in 2017 this concept of a positive organizational culture seems more of a legendary myth than reality on the ground – where for some reason the concept of organizational culture seems to be viewed dimly as if being concerned about it is a sign of a weak leader. Where in fact not being concerned about your culture is not only the sign of a weak leader, but a naive one as well.
Whether you believe in organizational culture and/or believe you can change it for the good – the fact is every organization has one. Sadly, in many cases today it seems that there are different views on culture within the same organisation – where leaders are often in blind denial about the culture they have created.
This type of ‘blind’ leadership will believe that they run a tight ship – directing their employees to achieve the goals they want to achieve. Innovation is considered ‘mutiny’ if it isn’t innovation from the top. Innovation from anywhere else is viewed as dissent and disrespectful behaviour towards the leadership elite – which over a short period of time drowns out all forms of innovative thinking from the mass of employees at the coal face, who actually are the only people who really know what the real problems are – and could offer solutions if only someone within the leadership would be prepared to get over their own ego and listen.
This leadership is command and control based – employees are simply there to serve their purpose, retention is ‘nice’ but not essential, employees can easily be replaced by other warm bodies desperate for employment, who will do as they are told to ensure they can put food on the table back home.
In fact these kind of employees are perfect as they will do as they are told and won’t make intelligent suggestions that may show up the incumbent leadership – who usually have been over-promoted for their ‘yes sir’ mentality, rather than their leadership experience and knowledge. Within these misdirected organizations there is usually a sad, negative culture of double standards – one set of rules for the leadership and another for the slaves, sorry that should be employees. Isn’t this the kind of culture that exists in dictatorships?
Organizational culture is important and should be something organizations focus on in the 21st Century – the benefits are actually huge for everyone involved. It takes a great leader with great insight and vision to see the benefits; and to be honest an idiot not to see it.
Although shareholders are often only short term focused these days – even for them, picking an organization with a genuine positive culture will pay-off more than an organization that has a negative culture; and for those looking for those long term sustainable returns, organizational culture is everything – or should be.
Sadly, as with ‘customer service’, experiencing positive organizational cultures are so rare in today’s world many employees have given up on the belief that they can or do exist anymore – but they do and they can; and it doesn’t take fairy dust to create them.
Leaders have become so myopic that too many focus inwardly on themselves and ‘how they look’ rather than embracing true leadership and creating structures that are self-driven, transparent and areas of true excellence.
We need academics and most importantly owners of businesses to draw a line in the sand now and invest the time and energy into their respective corporate cultures – it will be one of the best investments that they have ever made.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What’s Wrong With Today’s Corporate Leaders?

If you Google ‘leadership development’ you’ll get 28 million results; the top of the page starts with ads from Accenture asking ‘what are the leadership traits you need right now’, Henley Exec Education offering leadership programs with the slogan ‘inspire and lead others’, and then Imperial College London and Harvard Business School offering leadership development courses; followed next by Wikipedia offering one of many definitions, stating that “leadership development expands the capacity of individuals to perform in leadership roles within organizations. Leadership roles are those that facilitate execution of a company's strategy through building alignment, winning mindshare and growing the capabilities of others.”
But for all the hype and great ‘talk’ about leadership development being about ‘inspiring and leading others’ and ‘winning mindshare’ – I would suggest that leadership in practice is going backwards in the early 21st Century and is not evolving like those making significant amounts of money from leadership development would like you to believe.
So unless ‘we’ genuinely recognize this trend and make a significant shift from ‘hype’ to ‘action’ then I predict that by 2030 most organizations around the world will be run by command and control type leaders, who will have little thought or care about ‘inspiring and motivating their staff’ – and even if they did care, they won’t have the skills or basic knowledge to be an inspirational leader.
What’s causing this leadership development dilemma?
There are, in my humble opinion, many factors helping subdue effective leadership development within organizations and allow bad, ineffective leadership to be the rule rather than the exception in today’s business environment.
First and foremost we have too many poor leaders developing the next generation of ‘poor’ leaders – and hence rather than great leaders developing great leaders, we have the exact opposite. These poor leaders know they’re not setting the example, but they honestly don’t care. Most are in very senior positions or are sitting on boards – and simply aren’t going to put their hands up and say ‘hey, I shouldn’t be in this position’, mostly because they already have the power and don’t see that they need much of anything else; and with the power comes the pay check – so life is easy and good. If things go wrong they’ve always got someone to blame – and God forbid they do inspire their workforce – as then a ‘worker-bee’ might disrupt that simple cushy life they have.
What about the leader’s goal of optimising ‘organizational performance’ you might ask, surely their lack of leadership skills will be spotted sooner or later. Sadly they have a booklet of ‘get out of jail free’ quotes to use when things don’t go right and have plenty of excuses for why ‘things’ aren’t improving. The classic these days is to still blame ‘the global economy’ or ‘the global financial crisis’ – in the very near future the Brits and Europeans will blame ‘Brexit’ and imagine others around the world will find some reason to blame their failure to optimize performance on Donald Trump.
Since corporate boards are no longer strong enough or vigilant enough to spot the ‘rot’ of their leadership development in their own organisations – it needs other stakeholders, be these shareholders or customers, to start using the power they genuinely have to make a positive change to leadership development in the workplace. It will have a positive difference on all stakeholders, if they do.
Second, the institutions offering leadership development aren’t following through on their ‘promises’ and again organizations aren’t ensuring that they follow through either. Meaning that there are some great leadership development programs out there – but it’s one thing to learn the theory, but it’s all meaningless if the participants can’t implement the theory back in their workplace. It should be common sense that simply having attended a course doesn’t make you a better leader – it’s what you do with the knowledge you’ve learnt that defines you (and the program). But for many leadership development companies it’s all about ‘profit’ rather than genuine results.
Leadership has to change from the top – if the executives are all command and control leaders, then you aren’t going to change anything until they change – or at least recognize the need to change. This doesn’t mean if you’re working under these conditions that you’re necessarily a bad leader – in fact you may inspire and motivate your own team, within the overriding command and control culture – but you will be a very frustrated leader sooner or later.
What needs to change for organisations that want the genuine reality of great leaders – rather than just the hype – is for them to see leadership development through to its conclusion. This means first developing a transparent leadership model that will define your corporate leaders (and hence your culture). This won’t be made up of fuzzy buzz words that sound good – but will be the genuine skills and competencies that you expect from your leaders. Then you’ll implement ways for your staff to appraise their leaders without fear of retribution.
Once you’ve developed your model you’ll need to re-develop all those currently in leadership roles, in some cases finding the right mentors to help them develop on the job – and then, most importantly, the organization must have the strength and conviction to remove those leaders from their positions that don’t transform within an agreed period of time.
You’ll also need to have a focused development program for all your emerging leaders and your leadership pipeline, from bottom to top. This developmental pipeline needs to be transparent and reviewed on an annual basis – and ideally it will be run in-house.
Finally leaders should seek out feedback from their staff – asking ‘how can I improve as a leader’. This should be done on at least an annual basis and leaders should be reviewing their development against these goals. In fact in my experience – the really genuine great leaders are constantly seeking ways to be better leaders – whereas the poor leaders are confident they are already there and shun feedback, believing that being made a leader is recognition enough that they are brilliant at their job – showing a genuine lack of appreciation for (1) what leadership is all about and (2) that you can always improve as a leader.
What the world needs now are motivational and inspirational leaders to take organizations forward into the future – leaders that don’t look for excuses why things can’t be done, but who are always looking for opportunities to improve themselves, their departments and their organisations. Leaders who inspire loyalty from their staff, a rare trait in the current business climate; and leaders who constantly want to better themselves and aren’t afraid of feedback from their staff, in fact they crave it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Year in Review: 2016

There’s no doubt that 2016 will be a year that will be more remembered through history than most other years in recent times – yet we have to wait to see whether it will be remembered from a positive or negative perspective.
One thing that should be clear going into the future is that ‘opinion polls’ need to be rethought if they are going to accurately predict outcomes.
First the British public, according to the polls, were overwhelmingly going to vote to stay in Europe – and yet when the time came the British public voted to leave Europe – BREXIT, as it is now known. This referendum was meant to show the true power of democracy. A vote had taken place in the House of Commons agreeing to the referendum on Britain’s future in Europe – and yet, ever since the vote went to the leave camp, seemingly the wealthier members of the British population have been taking the Government to the English courts, challenging the process - at most trying to reverse the vote and at the very minimum trying to disrupt the process. I guess this is rich person’s view of democracy.
How this all ends, has still to be written. The media, in their infinite wisdom, have taken sides on the debate and are plying their own ‘fear and panic’ amongst the population, depending which side of the divide they reside.
The craziest protestations come from those that are demanding the British government make their strategy and negotiation stance public – before the negotiations with Europe take place. Yet anyone who’s negotiated in a business context knows that the last thing you do is show your hand prior to negotiations – unless you’re playing games and misdirecting your opponents with ‘false’ information – otherwise you are obviously going to be negotiating from a weakened position; it would be like playing poker where your opponents can see your hand.
Europe must be smiling to themselves – hoping the do-gooders get their way and the Prime Minster has to reveal the government’s strategy before the negotiations start. You don’t need to be a mind reader to guess how negotiations will go for Britain if this scenario plays out.
The second time the polls were continually wrong was with Donald Trump. He wasn’t even expected to become the Republican nominee – let alone the next President of the United States. How the polls got this one so wrong should be weighing on people’s minds – if they actually cared. The media love a drama – so news, isn’t news anymore – and news channels are more focused on entertainment than factual global information and insights.
Whether you like Trump or not – he’s clearly a brilliant marketer and strategist.
Talking with Americans – it seems a sad reflection on the country that no one particularly liked either candidate – and Trump was considered the better of the two evils. What that says for the US going forward – only time will tell. Though if you like to take the odd bet – it might be worth looking at the odds on Ivanka Trump becoming the first women President of the United States in the near future. Where the Trumps will take over the dynasties of the Bush’s and the Clinton’s.  
Lots of other events happened in 2016, but it will be remembered most going forward for these two above.
What does this mean for business? It simply means that businesses should be doing what we’ve been taught of years. Organisations need to be flexible and resilient, constantly looking at opportunities and being aware of the threats to their business. Hence they need excellent leadership that focuses on opportunities and who create a motivated and innovative workforce that thrives on positive ‘change’. What is definite is that, even though there will be some global chaos in 2017, this definitely means that there will be real business opportunities for those that are willing to look forward – and not get stuck in the present, sulking that ‘things are changing and aren’t going their way’.
We live in an ever changing world, where most governments and the main stream media seem to be so out of touch with citizens in their own countries, let alone on the international stage.
So my message for 2017 is to be brave, be true to yourself, stick to the basics, constantly look for opportunities and don’t listen to the ‘naysayers’ – where there are threats, there are always opportunities – so see you cup half full (not half empty); focus on the positive and enjoy the journey.
Finally, as in past years, let’s pause for a moment and remember those who have left us during 2016;
In January we lost David Bowie, just after releasing his 25th album; Alan Rickman, of Harry Potter fame and the first Die Hard movie; the Eagles frontman Glenn Frey; and Sir Terry Wogan, a broadcaster know by many in the UK.
In February we lost Harper Lee the author of To Kill a Mocking bird, which became standard reading for millions of young people.
In March we lost Beatles producer George Martin; Emmerson, Lake and Palmer founder and keyboard player Keith Emerson; and British comedian Ronnie Corbett.
In April we lost Prince due to an accidental overdose; UK comedian Victoria Wood and agony Aunt Denise Robertson.
In May we lost Burt Kwouk best known for playing alongside Peter Sellers as Clouseau’s manservant.
In June we lost Muhammad Ali, who was more than just a boxing legend, he was an inspirational man to many.
In July we lost Roscoe Brown who’d been one of the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII and Jack Davis co funder of Mad magazine;
In August we lost comedy legend Gene Wilder and Kenny Baker who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise.
In September we lost golfing legend Arnold Palmer.
In October we lost Pete Burns, the Dead or Alive singer and Jean Alexander, better known as Hilda Ogden in the UK soap, Coronation Street.
In November we lost singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen; Andrew Sachs, better known as playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers with John Cleese; actor Robert Vaughn and Sir Jimmy Young.
And finally in December we lost singer-songwriter George Michael; actress Zsa Zsa Gabor; rock superstar Greg Lake; Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt; actress Carrie Fisher and then the day after her death, her mother Debbie Reynolds.
Life is short so focus on the things that matter to you!
Wishing all readers a healthy, happy and prosperous 2017.