Sunday, April 24, 2011

It’s Your Future (You Can Cry If You Want To).

While the business world continues to recover from a global recession that has forced the closure of many organisations (both good and bad) and when many individuals have lost their jobs around the world (both young and old) - have you spent enough time considering your future career and developing a well thought out strategy that will take you to where you want to go.

As the world’s population continues to grow and more and more people search for their dream jobs, it will become your responsibility (and not anyone else’s), to define your own future and to ‘fight’ for it. Guaranteed employment is a luxury of a past age that will soon appear as myths and legends of a lost civilisation. In many cases a hundred years ago, sons followed their fathers into their occupations, with a virtual guaranteed place after school and a lifetime of employment with a trophy, like a gold watch, your only reward for offering your services for thirty to forty years.

Now the world has changed and there is keen competition for placements all over the world, from sixteen year olds upwards (until you retire). You can no longer afford to relax or assume that a top qualification will guarantee you anything other than a more focused look from a recruiter – certainly there are fewer and fewer guarantees of getting a job – and even fewer, if any, guarantees of having the career you always dreamed of.

The smart individual will start planning their career from an early age, building the appropriate contacts and networks, both from family connections and from those offered by schools, colleges and universities. This will mean a significant change in the current approach to career planning – which was something that was often left until after leaving school or the final year of university. In today’s global economy that may be too late, with the supply of talent likely to outstrip demand over the next few decades. It will be important for you to have the right contacts and practical experience, beyond the basic qualifications, that will make you stand out from the crowd and give you your own individual competitive advantage.

For those currently in jobs and planning their future careers the same will be true – individuals will need to form and build strategies that support their career ambitions, which will be based on a solid contact base, a unique individual brand and the right mix of proven practical experience and recognised qualifications.

In fact a smart strategy for career planning will include;

1) Building a diverse and professional network that can support your career goals and allow for flexibility as your career develops;

2) Constantly learning from those with experience in the recruitment field - but not expecting them to do your work for you;

3) Learning about different career paths and the appropriate vertical and horizontal tracks to success;

4) Knowing yourself; and ensuring that you have your feet firmly on the ground, so that your career expectations are always realistic (otherwise the only person who will be disappointed is you);

5) Developing your own ‘unique’ individual brand that gets you noticed for the right reasons from an early age;

6) Never stopping learning;

7) Having regular interviews to keep yourself up-to-date with the market and interview techniques (as you never know when you might need it);

8) Remember it’s your future and you have the power to influence your own career destiny – so start planning your career options today, whether you are sixteen or sixty – and maybe your dreams will come true.

There are less job opportunities today than ever before and the outlook is bleak, with many organisations around the world still automating manual jobs, meaning the market will only get tougher. One can take a slightly arrogant perspective that this applies to everyone else but you – confident that your experience and qualifications will always make you sought after and hence always employable. But if you don’t have the right contact base and aren’t ‘visible’ for the right reasons – it’s just possible that in today’s job market you might not get noticed. When this time comes, it’s too late to change the past – so the only thing you can do is influence your future and your future career opportunities.

Whether at school, university or currently working, use all the services and activities that are offered to support you and your career quest to the full. There’s no time like the present to assess your career path and devise the right strategic path to take you where you want to go – just making sure that you implement it correctly.

It’s your future – so take control of it and your own future success; or you can expect others to do it for you and then when it doesn’t work out ‘you can cry if you want to.’

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How Complicated Can Transformation Be?

Transformation requires teams that are focused on success, and requires the leadership to focus on five main areas – talent, culture, strategy, decision making and execution (Wiseman and McKeown, 2010, p.118).

Transformation, as a business methodology, is often misunderstood and it’s worth noting that some definitions of transformation from the concise Oxford English dictionary include the act or instance of transforming; and the induced or spontaneous change of one element into another. Yet too often in organisations the ‘transformation’ process is anything but ‘spontaneous.’

Robert Miles highlights in his 2010 article how if you “ask any CEO who has overseen a corporate transformation want should have been handled differently; you’re likely to get the answer: we should have and could have moved faster.”

In fact Miles highlights the most common responses as;

 Wishing they had unified the leadership team right away;
 Wishing they had engaged the employees sooner and quickly drummed up support for the new vision;
 Wishing they hadn’t waited so long to test the assumptions and refine their key initiatives;
 Wishing they had generated some visible returns early on, to accelerate the commitments and reinforce the expectations of employees, customers, suppliers and investors.

Of course many consultants reading this will be confident that this doesn’t apply to them and only describes an organisation that probably needed a consultancy intervention in the first place – but that is more bravado than anything else; transformations are hardly ever a smooth process and lessons can always be learnt. As Miles mentions “transforming an enterprise requires intensive cooperation among executive peers. Strong traditional units have to share resources with unproven or underperforming units, and often they must sacrifice something they value for the good of the whole,” (p.70).

In fact as Miles states “successful transformations call for a rigorous confrontation of reality, both external and internal.” This requires the full engagement in the process of the strategic leadership team, top and supervisory management, without an exception. Anyone left out of the process can become a significant ‘block’ on progress when the transformation process is at its most critical stage and this individual has absolutely no idea why ‘their area’ needs to change – to the extent that they can sabotage the whole process (or try to).

But “beyond mandating involvement, you have to provide safe passage, as this enables managers and employees to be brutally honest about what they see as the company’s greatest weaknesses and encourage them to contribute ideas on how to launch the transformation and keep it going,” (p.71).

One of the biggest problems with transformation is that the process has to be done in parallel to the ‘current day-to-day business activities.’ It’s not like many of these reality shows where you can close the business for a while, make the transformation and then re-open again. The transformation process is an extra activity on top of the daily activities, and hence it’s vital to manage;

1) The allocation of time and expectations;

2) Supporting the transformation and focusing on ‘short-term’ goals or key events;

3) Communicate ‘successes’ as soon as they happen and constantly motivate the organisation at all levels;

4) Dissident voices in the organisation. The worst thing for a transformation is a manger who will agree to the process in front of the leader and be against it in front of their own team;

5) The appropriate training and development to add value to the process;

6) The three key motivational moments, when energy levels may drop, which are;

(a)post launch (when there’s a feeling of, phew, we’ve started);

(b) event specific over confidence (when certain areas of the organisation find things are going better than expected and become over confident and ‘relaxed’); and

(c) the assumption that once implemented ‘gravity’ will ensure continuous improvement from now on.

7) Don’t take on too much at the same time – you’ll just cause a bottleneck.

This last point is vital, because, as Miles highlights “in the most successful corporate transformations, managers restrict their action agendas to three, or at most four, well articulated companywide initiatives – each one containing only two or three carefully selected areas of focus tied to clear outcome metrics,” (p.72).

Finally, when managing the process just remember that “if the team members feel they don’t have quite enough time, you probably have the pacing about right. And remember as the excitement of the launch wears off, some executives may lobby for old, familiar methods that are more to their liking,” (Miles, 2010, p.70; p.75). A good transformation manager will anticipate the changing moods during the process and will skilfully keep the project on track.


Miles, R.H., (2010). Accelerating Corporate Transformation (Don’t Lose Your Nerve!). Harvard Business Review, Vol. 88, Issue 1, p.68-75.

Wiseman, L. and McKeown, G. (2010). Bringing Out the Best in Your People. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 88, Issue 5, p.117-121

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When Do Political Games Impact Business Strategy?

A budget stalemate that gripped the United States ended just before the midnight deadline on Friday, 8th April, as congressional leaders and the White House agreed to a package of ‘stopgap’ spending reductions to avert a federal government shutdown, and keep things running for the next few days until the budget agreement can be formally enacted, (LA Times, 9th April, on-line; and The Telegraph, 8th April, on-line).

Preceding the last minute compromise, the White House was actually drawing up detailed plans to shut down the federal government from Saturday, 9th April, that would mean the suspension of an estimated 800,000 employees without pay and the disruption of hundreds of services, including the processing of tax returns and the processing of about 30% of tax refunds, loans to small businesses would not be processed, there would be no home loan guarantees, the National Institutes of Health would stop taking new patients, and national parks would be closed, (cited in the

However The Telegraph in the UK reported that the biggest incentive for a deal may not have been the concern for the hundreds of thousands that could be out of work or the impact on the infrastructure; but the risks that failure might have on the public perception of Democrats and Republicans as the 2012 presidential election campaign gathers steam, (7:19 am BST, 09 April 11).

The mere threat of the shutdown sparked a procession of negative economic news, fuelling the decline in the value of the dollar, which in turn helped push up oil prices by 2.3%, to more that US$ 112 a barrel, and was cited as the main cause for the 30-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.

Despite the apparent resolution of the impasse, the bitter political fight raised questions about the ability of Obama and the divided congress to deal with the bigger issues looming down the road, from the federal debt ceiling to reining in budget deficits.

One must remember that this ‘fight’ is over the 2010/11 budget that they still have not agreed on and which expires in September this year. At which point the government should have agreed a budget for 2011/12.

Can you imagine running a business like this and what the response of the shareholders would be? The Board would be fired. What this ‘political brinkmanship’ seems to show is that marginalised government does not work and has a significant impact on the economy and the citizens of that country. Imagine a divided Board, how would they be able to optimise the running and growth of their organisation? So one has to ask how a divided government can optimise the growth of a country – especially at a time when the ‘dissenters’ are vying for power and worse still the world is trying to recover from a global recession?

The problems in agreeing the budget are part of an ideological battle being waged over the size of the federal government and the size of the national debt; as well as the republicans looking to ensure trillions are cut from the federal deficit in the decade ahead. Also, it should not be forgotten that if the US can’t agree to an increase in the current debt ceiling then the government will actually go broke – so this recent spat is nothing compared to the fights to come.

Yet as the US government was arguing about a budget that should have been signed-off months ago, they agreed with little hesitation to spending US$ 4 million a day to keep 50 fighter jets and nearly 40 support aircraft in the Libyan conflict, including the cost of munitions. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters that, as of Tuesday 5th April, the US Air Force had spent US$ 75 million on the war in Libya; worse still, the total cost of the entire US military operation, on 28th March, was already estimated to be US$ 500 million.

Budgets define and constrain corporate strategy. If the strategic leadership have a vision for the future, the organisation will ‘normally’ develop the strategic plan and the financial budget to get them there in advance of the strategic implementation. As if you can’t agree the budget, then you can’t agree the strategy going forward. This impasse would lead to the organisation being forced to focus on ‘very short-term’ strategic goals, based on the money available – which would never allow the organisation to optimise their future opportunities. This strategy would be one of day-to-day survival, with little hope of getting the organisation to buy in to a long term positive future vision.

Governments would be well advised to seek a little bit of business and strategic input – and concentrate on principles that allow for the development of future optimal growth strategies for their country, rather than on short-term political success for themselves.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How Does Family Influence our Business Success?

“One of the very best predictors of a child's self-esteem, school success, and a rewarding life is a secure, open, and loving relationship with his or her parents (also known as attachment). A child with a secure attachment carries the feelings of being loved, respected, and guided by their parents through their entire life-span.”

In an interesting article, Pedro Carneiro, Flavio Cunha and James Heckman mention how “human capital accumulation and skill formations are dynamic processes. The skills acquired in one stage of the life cycle affect both the initial conditions and the technology of learning at the next stage. Human capital is produced over the life cycle by families, schools, and firms, although most discussions of skill formation focus on schools as the major producer of abilities and skills, despite a substantial body of evidence that families and firms are also major producers of abilities and skills; where a major determinant of successful schools is successful families.”

Yet “in an era where 49% of UK workers report that balancing work and family responsibilities is an issue of significant concern to them (JP Morgan Fleming, 2003, cited in Alexandra Beauregard), the influence of family and personal life on career decisions is receiving increasing amounts of media attention. Today’s business school graduates are looking for a work style to go with their lifestyle; claims the HR consultancy Hay Group (The Economist, 2006). Generation X and Generation Y workers, who are younger than 40, are more likely than boomers to say they put family before jobs; says an article in USA Today (Elias, 2004). Today’s younger employees are working to live rather than living to work; states a newspaper manager in the journalism newsletter Fusion (Williamson, 2006).”

It’s interesting that Jerome Kagan highlights that “of the four important influences on personality— identification, ordinal position, social class, and parental socialization—identification is the most important. By six years of age, children assume that some of the characteristics of their parents belong to them and they experience vicariously the emotion that is appropriate to the parent's experience. A six-year-old girl identified with her mother will experience pride should her mother win a prize or be praised by a friend. However, she will experience shame or anxiety if her mother is criticized or is rejected by friends. This process of identification has a great relevance to personality development. In addition, all children must learn to control two important families of emotions: anxiety, fear, and guilt, on the one hand, and on the other, anger, jealousy, and resentment.”

In fact Pedro Carneiro et al, state that “the following conclusions emerge from the recent empirical literature on child development. Cognitive ability is affected by environmental influences (including in uteri experiences) and is formed relatively early, by age 8 or so. It is hard to change IQ after this age. Non-cognitive skills (motivation, self-discipline, time preference) associated with development of the child’s prefrontal cortex can also be affected by environmental interventions. These skills are more malleable at later ages than cognitive skills. Non-cognitive skills are valued in the market place and also affect academic and social achievement.”

So the family environment has a direct impact on a child’s development, as they form their morale compass along with developing key social skills that will significantly impact their start in the business world. Of course, as much as the family impacts the child’s development, family has a significant impact on the adult’s career development and career choices as well.

For example, Alexandra Beauregard highlights how “of the five career development stages identified by Greenhaus and Callanan (1994), occupational choice is perhaps one of those most influenced by family concerns, both present and anticipated. Preparation for work involves developing an occupational self-image, wherein an individual attempts to match his or her strengths and weaknesses, values, and preferred lifestyle with the requirements and advantages of a range of different occupations.”

In fact Beauregard found that “employee concerns for balancing work and family are set to grow. Workers values and expectations regarding the combination of work and family are modelled on those exhibited by their parents (Sanders et al., 1998), and dual-earner households are on the rise in both the UK and USA (Brannen, Moss, Owen and Vale, 1997; Cornell Employment and Families Careers Institute, 1999). As more and more young people whose parents were in dual-earner partnerships enter the workforce themselves, organizations will need to find ways to allow these young workers to meet their expectations of integrating a successful career with a meaningful family life.”

So it’s interesting to note in conclusion that as Beauregard states “attitudes toward balancing a career with family commitments, as well as the actual experience of managing competing demands from work and from home, are likely to be a significant predictor of employees’ satisfaction with their career outcomes (Sanders et al., 1998) and perceptions of career success.”

Most importantly both dual and single parents must never forget the influence they have on their children’s development, both in life and business. Richard Branson gives an example of how family should be, when he mentions how “I cannot remember a moment in my life when I have not felt the love of my family. We were a family that would have killed for each other - and we still are.”

Those few parents, who abdicate their responsibilities in respect of their children’s development, not only miss out in sharing their ups and downs, but simply don’t realise what a significant negative impact this has on their lives.


Beauregard, A. (2007). Family influences on the career life cycle.

Carneiro, P., Cunha, F. and Heckman, J. (2003). Interpreting the Evidence of Family Influence on Child Development

Kagan, J. Personality Development - Influences on Personality Development.