Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who's Developing Tomorrow's Leaders?

“Don’t look down on anyone unless you are helping them up” – Jesse Jackson

Leadership, until recently, seems to have been viewed as some mystical skill that either you had or hadn’t, that either you were born with or you weren’t. Managers would self-appraise themselves as good leaders because they had achieved some tangible results, (and hadn’t received any staff complaints in the process) rather than in the method the results were gained. In too many cases, positional power is still used to cajole corporate results, negating the very concept of effective leadership.

Effective leadership is important because it has a direct impact on the organisational culture and its performance – anyone who has worked for a bad leader knows how demotivating the experience was and how this poor approach had a negative impact on your focus, motivation and operational results.

The impact leaders have on their staff is of critical importance and is beginning to get the attention it deserves. What is particularly disappointing is when I see managers in organisations that have developed poor leadership skills and who are oblivious to how bad they actually are. Leadership isn’t just about results; it’s about developing an effective working environment, driven by focused teams, where each team is lead by a highly effective leader. This means that in the best organisations great leaders are in fact leading and developing other great leaders at the next level in the organisation and so on down the organisational pyramid. Unfortunately, in today business world, there are still too many bad leaders developing the bad leaders of tomorrow.

Although the jury seems to be out on just how much of leadership is gained through nature and how much through nurture, it has been accepted that leaders are not simply born. Although nature may play a role, leadership development is more likely associated with the environment in which potential future leaders spend their early years developing their morale compass, and their basic ethics and values, rather than some divine intervention.

There have been various attempts, over the years, to identify the behavioural traits and skill sets required to be a ‘great’ leader. What seems to be clear is that great leaders embrace and utilise the following attributes;
  • They are honest,
  • They are passionate,
  • They are excellent visionaries,
  • They have excellent communication skills,
  • They lead by example,
  • They are inspirational,
  • They encourage best practice,
  • They excel at strategic planning and implementation.

Unfortunately, in too many instances, leadership development is still the exception rather than the rule and organisations need to realise that leadership training and development is a corporate necessity for sustainable future growth.
Organisations, starting at board level, need to urgently appraise the effectiveness of their leadership skills over and above simple operational results. This means the current leadership need to have the courage to appraise their leadership skills through structured discussion and 360 degree feedback. They can then proactively take charge of their own development, as it is the leaders of today who are setting the example and developing the leaders of tomorrow – and we need them to be the best that they can be.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Does Honesty Impact Corporate Strategy?

For most business principles to work efficiently organisations require a culture of openness and honesty. But how many open and honest organisations are there?

Don’t we still teach our children to always ask when they don’t know and never to lie? If we are still teaching these basic values to our children – because we know they are right – then why aren’t we applying the same principles in business? What is there to be afraid of?

Organisations should want the best from their people and not only encourage, but demand, a culture of openness where employees don’t fear retribution or humiliation for simply being honest. In fact the very cornerstone of most business principles demand honesty – what is the point of staff appraisals, if those taking part aren’t being honest with each other; and what would be the purpose of 360 degree feedback if the feedback isn’t honest; and how can organisations evaluate their ‘real’ strengths and weaknesses, if employees aren’t honest about them? Organisations and their strategic leaders who do not strive for an open and honest culture are only limiting their future growth and fooling themselves.

It is today’s business leaders that must set the standard and continually reinforce the principles of open and honest business cultures. As Mi Troy, Chairman of Molina Healthcare, stated in a 2009 article, “There is only one agenda – the company’s agenda – and neither the individual leader nor the department’s interests supersedes it. Leaders should model the behaviour and culture they want for their organisation.”

Although, in discussion, most executives and employees will agree that they desire to work in an open and honest environment, often the biggest problem seems to be; when and how do we start to change?

The ‘when’ is today and the ‘how’ is by ensuring that ethics become an integral part of your individual and organisational vision and strategy.

Culture change must be approached like any other change initiative.

1. It must be driven by the organisational leadership, who must set the example for everyone to follow – if the leadership falter, the culture change will fail;
2. The culture change and its positive impact on the organisation must be clearly communicated to the entire organisation; as well as how the change process will take place;
3. Leadership is looking for ‘ownership’ and not ‘compliance’ of the new culture;
4. If the organisation currently operates in a climate of mistrust then the leadership must realise that although the concept may be understood and in principle accepted by the employees, sufficient time and dedicated focus must be given to ensure a fully owned and sustainable culture change;
5. The leadership and the organisation need to be patient and focus on the benefits of the end result; (without direct leadership it is to easy for the organisation to revert back to how things were);
6. As the benefits become visible to the entire organisation a critical mass will start to form. Managers, departmental teams and individuals will start reinforcing the positive outcomes from the culture change;
7. Once the ‘new’ culture takes over, it forms part of your core business principles and impacts your strategic choices.
8. The benefits of an open and honest culture, besides the working environment itself, will include a more accurate and meaningful assessment of the business environment and the organisations ‘real’ strengths and weaknesses. This will naturally lead to efficient strategic decisions that will add greater value to your future growth, compared to organisations that don’t embrace the principles of openness and honesty.

Remember, it is said, that in business, “lies may take care of the present, but they have no future,” (Cortes, 2007).


Atufunwa, B. (2009). The art of effective communication. Black Enterprise. Vol. 40, Issue 4, p.46-47

Green, C., Cortes, M.A., Cheung, C. and Kennedy, D. (2007). What are some communication mistakes that leaders make? Communication World. Vol. 24, Issue 5, p19.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Craving Poor Customer Service

Can it be that a majority of the global population crave poor customer service? It could be true, why else would so many companies try so hard to consistently offer poor customer service.

Organisations, through their Management and Strategic Leaders, are constantly taught to meet the expectations of the customer – so they must be in contact with this vast group of customers that crave poor service, who relish long queues, who delight in rude people and who expect poor quality and over-priced products.

It sometimes feels like I’m a member of a minority who not only seek, but expect, service quality and excellence. The return for the organisation is my patronage and loyalty – but this seems to be scoffed at.

Yet where does one find this vast group of people who crave poor customer service?

In contradiction to the above I find that the majority of people still crave service excellence and who sadly find customer service is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity.

So why the contradiction and who’s to blame? If so many people do in fact desire to receive service excellence, then do these same people always offer it when on the other side of the counter? If not, why the hypocrisy?

Customer service is one of the simplest skills for organisations to implement. You don’t need books and training courses to embrace it. Since, as is more likely, the majority of us do crave service excellence, then the first place to start is to treat your customer as you’d like to be treated. How complicated is that? If you’d expect reliability then offer it; if you’d expect quality then offer it – it really is that simple and when the customer’s expectations are unrealistic, don’t confront or lie to them, engage with them and change their expectations.

As customers we must also take some of the blame for accepting poor service in the first place. We have actually lowered our standards, as it seems to be the path of less resistance and we avoid that ‘conflict moment’. We find excuses by telling ourselves that we don’t have the time, don’t want the hassle and don’t expect to make a difference anyway.

Many of us have given up the belief that we deserve service excellence and have forgotten the power we have. As customers we need to start demanding and responding to service excellence and when we don’t get it vote with our feet and assert our right to complain!

Organisations also need to practically understand how all their employees approach customer service. Although it’s the organisation that gets the reputation for poor service, it isn’t the organisation that offers bad service, it’s the people within it – and it is often an unchecked minority who create the bad image for all to be tarnished with. If organisations don’t encourage and reward service excellence then they mustn’t be surprised when their customers, say ‘enough is enough’ and leave for greener pastures.

So in 2010 it’s time for you, the customer, to demand your right for service excellence and to realise you do have the power to make a difference in today’s technological world.

Finally there are astute organisations, large and small, who have already realised that offering personalised service excellence is a very real and sustainable competitive advantage in the 21st Century. To those special few, I thank you for meeting my expectations and making my ‘shopping’ experience such a pleasure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Your Future

What all organisations need are people, at all levels, who are focused on success. It is said that;
“There are three types of businesses;
Those that make things happen;
Those that watch things happen;
Those that wonder what happened.”

Yet, business success or failure is dependent on the people within these organisations. Hence if the quote is true for organisations it must also be true for individuals as well. Simply put there must be three types of people in business;

Those people who make things happen;
Those people who watch things happen; and
Those people who wonder what happened!

Watching things happen can be acceptable in the short term, but only as long as people and organisations make things happen from what they’ve seen and learnt. For example, watching your competition so that you can create a better competitive strategy can be a source of best practice in its own right - since from watching and learning you are making things happen; but simply watching and doing nothing is unhealthy (to say the least).

There are too many people in business today who are content to watch and sadly many who are still wondering what happened!

What ‘winning’ organisations need are people who will make things happen.

So which do you want to be? You can decide today to become an individual who contributes to their own future and that of the organisation they work for by embracing a culture of best practice and being someone who makes things happen. This will not only ensure sustainable growth for your organisation but will, in the process, create job satisfaction and career growth for yourself; a perfect win-win solution.

Extract from the book ‘Be the Best in Business’ by Nigel Brownbill

Thursday, March 11, 2010

9 Tips for Small Businesses

1. Have a clear plan.

Having a plan keeps you focused and excited; as well as allowing you to predict the future and assess your progress. Delmar and Shane (2003) found that failure to plan increased the likelihood that new ventures would fail in their first 30 months. In their research they found that although many small businesses complained about the amount of time needed to develop a detailed plan - that putting aside time now, saved time later.

Also a concise, focused plan gives you something to excite and attract customers and it gives your staff (whether one or fifty) clear direction and something to work towards, which is very motivating in a small business.

2. Believe in yourself.

If you don’t believe in yourself, why should others believe in you? Self-belief and a positive attitude is a significant competitive advantage to the small business.

There will be tough times, and you will be tested, but you have to keep your unwavering believe in your ability to succeed.

3. Believe in your business.

Like believing in yourself, you have to believe in your business and its products or services. If the belief in the business goes – then the business is gone.

Your products or services will be continuously challenged by competitors and the better your business the more it will be challenged. You need to recognise that direct competition is telling you that you’re doing something right – now all you have to do, is to do it better.

4. Your staff are your future.

Make sure you select the right people for your business, whether it’s one person or fifty. Your people are your future – so empower them to be part of your success.

A ‘small or family business’ does not imply a culture of parent-child relationships, but implies a team working as one towards a common goal. The small business team works effectively together, supporting each other every step of the way, within a business environment of openness and honesty.

5. Never lower your standards.

Your business standards create your image – a highly respected image creates customer loyalty – customer loyalty creates business success and sustainable growth.

There may be a temptation when things are tough to lower standards and it might even give your business short-term relief, but it will have long-term consequences. So keep your standards high and you’ll keep your customers. It is these very standards that creates your business image and with it the potential for sustainable growth.

6. Build strong collaborative relationships.

Your suppliers and key contacts are important relationships in the development of your small business - even more so than with larger organisations. Identifying and developing collaborative relationships with the right people can add significant value to the business. These relationships would include your bank, auditors, lawyers, IT support, and key suppliers for your business.

Selecting the wrong suppliers and key contacts will not only have a detrimental effect on your business, (e.g. when machinery doesn’t work or service isn’t provided on time) but can actually destroy your business for good.

7. Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

Know yourself and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. If you recognise what your strengths are you can build your business around them. Similarly if you’re aware of your weaknesses and how these impact the success of your business, you can ‘employ’ the skills you need, either formally through hiring the right staff or informally through friends and contacts.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Don’t let pride get in the way of asking for help. We can’t know everything, so when in doubt or unsure – learn to ask. Build a network of friends and business contacts that you can trust to give you the answers you need (rather than the answers you might want to hear).

9. Be proud of what you have achieved.

Give yourself permission to praise yourself. Having a small business is not easy and the owners are often so busy with today and tomorrow that they often forget what they have achieved, how far they have come and in what circumstances.

Our World has just experienced a severe global recession, where many large corporates have either been bailed or failed; so any small business that has survived should be very proud and you should take the time to recognise your achievement.


Delmar, F. and Shane, S. (2003) Does business planning facilitate the development of new businesses? Strategic Management Journal, 24(12), p.1165-1185.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Over Worked and Under Performing

I didn’t get the memo, but it looks like many organisations, both large and small, have instituted internal ‘reward programmes’ for employees who work more than 250 hours a month.

It’s not clear, at the time of writing, whether the ‘reward’ is an all expenses paid trip to a five star hotel in the Bahamas or to the cardiac unit of their local hospital.

I was talking to a banking executive the other week, who, having just come back from a week’s conference was working till 23h00 each evening just to catch up. Amusingly his company asked him to go on another conference last week, to which he said no (or something similar) – you’ll be pleased to know that he’s now on three weeks holiday and has left instructions that he doesn’t want anything in his ‘in-tray’ on his return – (we wish him luck).

How can organisations effectively plan for tomorrow and their future, if their management and staff are spending 150% of their time either ‘catching up’ or sorting out yesterday’s problems?

Effective organisation structures, effective team work, delegation, succession planning (and other business principles), along with improved technology (like the Internet and mobile phones) are supposed to make business more effective and streamlined and not more cumbersome.

There can only be two reasons why management and staff are working 250 hours a month, it’s either due to the efficiency of the current management and staff compliment. In this case, and as Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, “you need to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats”.

Or, if it’s not the managers and staff, then you have to conclude that you have poor or ineffective leadership. In this case you either need to re-evaluate your leadership style and approach or get off the bus.

With all the technology and business principles organisations have at their disposal it is a poor reflection on organisational leadership when managers and staff have to work harder rather than smarter.

Organisations need to find the time to effectively analyse their business environment, so they can embrace business methodologies and practices that simplify their business operations – this will give them a highly motivated workforce and an immediate competitive advantage.


Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. HarperCollins. NY.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How good is your Strategy for 2010?

A recent McKinsey Global Survey, completed in February 2010, showed that out of the 1,467 Executives surveyed, the majority expected their organisations to record a profit increase over the next twelve months, and less than fifty-percent of them expected their organisations to reduce costs over the same period.

With similar feedback being reported on a regular basis there is a feeling amongst many organisations that they have worked their way through the recession.

Yet, what now; organisations cannot afford to relax and pat themselves on the back for surviving the crisis. Now is the time to review and implement effective and efficient strategies for 2010 and beyond. As organisations recover, they will emerge in different states of readiness to take advantage of the changing market conditions.

Organisations need leaders at all levels to embrace the principles of effective strategic planning and implementation and an organisational culture that thrives on ensuring their strategies are constantly aligned to the business environment and are constantly challenging the status quo.

There are two questions that you should be able to ask any employee in your organisation; and the answers you get will tell you the effectiveness of your strategic process (planning and implementation). The two questions are (1) what are the organisations current strategic goals and (2) how, through what you do on a daily basis, do you contribute to these strategic goals.

So, if you asked the employees in your organisation or department, what percentage of them would know, without hesitation, the correct answers to both questions?

Remember as you plan for the year ahead, it isn’t the strategic process that has failed organisations, but organisations that have failed the strategic process. Organisational strategies will only be as good as the inputs and outputs used to develop them and the integrity of the individuals and teams who plan and implement them.

So strategy must be done right or not at all, if you want to take your Executives and/or Management away for a couple of days, then take them away – just don’t call it a strategic workshop as it gives strategy a bad name.


McKinsey Global Survey. Economic Conditions Snapshot, February 2010.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Our Passion for Being the Best

Don’t we all want to be the best at what we do? As we grow up and start imagining our future careers, we don’t imagine ourselves as being an average performer or just getting by, we imagine ourselves as being the best.

Organisations are the same, when they are no more than innovative thoughts either in someone’s mind or scribbled on paper, the images are of success and not just of getting by or survival strategies.

So what happens – and why do we settle for less? Sometimes it’s because we’re told that we can’t be the best, or we are over ambitious and expect to be successful straight away without developing our career or business. Other times it just appears to be so much work – and where other people (consciously or unconsciously) blunt our passion and encourage us to drop the dream and simply go with the flow.

Although you may not be part of a best practice organisation today, if you embrace a ‘best practice’ culture and encourage those around you to do the same, you can be part of a best practice organisation of tomorrow. From there you are at the forefront of business development and assured of sustainable growth and a unique competitive advantage.