Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Can We Learn From 2012? An End of Year Review.

Although 2012 saw a recovery for many countries around the world, it was only a modest recovery, with no real certainty for the next twelve months. What follows is a review of some of the stories from 2012.
Competition in mobile technology intensified. Apple maintained its worldwide dominance. But the use of Google's Android software on competing smartphones and tablets spread faster than Apple's market share. Forty-four percent of U.S. adults own smartphones, up from about 35 percent a year ago. Tablet ownership doubled in 2012. Taking on Apple's iPad, Microsoft unleashed its Surface tablet and began selling Windows 8, a tablet-friendly operating system. Amazon and Barnes & Noble rushed out high-definition-screen tablets. Each priced its premium model less than the entry-level iPad. Apple struck back with the iPad Mini. Struggling to compete, once-formidable Nokia and BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion floundered.
NASA's R2 Robonaut became the first helper droid to be used on board the International Space Station for science experiments and general repairs and maintenance; and China sends its first female astronaut in to space .
In the most overhyped and overpriced IPO in history, Facebook goes public and almost immediately wipes out $40 billion of investor capital. Did it kill the IPO market? Burst the dot-com 2.0 bubble? Shatter investor confidence? Undermine Morgan Stanley’s stellar reputation? Destroy Mark Zuckerberg’s credibility? Damage the Facebook brand? Nope. Apparently, nobody can live without Facebook. 
A gathering of sustainability leaders hosted by Sir Richard Branson and Jamie Oliver was warned that big businesses will be swept aside by emerging social enterprises unless they start changing their business models and contribute more to society. Where Chris West, the director of the Shell Foundation, said it was vital that the sustainability efforts of companies were directed at supporting change in the developing world. He criticised those businesses that were still hooked on charitable donations rather than leveraging their core skills to tackle poverty. Branson and Oliver warned that progress towards more sustainable businesses was being hampered by a lack of political leadership.
A historic event took place just before Easter, when the first ever United Nations conference on happiness took place with more than 600 delegates including leaders and representatives from nations around the world (it’s true). This was the first major step forward in a process which began last summer, when the resolution ‘Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development’ was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. Taking the lead was Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom which famously measures its success in terms of "Gross National Happiness" (GNH).
Scientists discovered the smallest vertebrate so far, a frog living in the rainforests of New Guinea.  The Paedophryne amanuensis measures in at 7.7 millimeters long, the size of a housefly.
3-D printing, where in the United States, an artificial liver made of sugar was printed in 3D for blood vessels to grow into.  An artificial jaw was also printed in 3D and successfully transplanted. 3D printing will continue to grow in usage and popularity in the coming year.  Home 3D printers will soon drop below the $2,000 mark.  Brian Barrett, the managing editor of the blog Gizmodo, explains, “Instead of printing ink onto paper, it takes these little spools of plastic, [usually], and you can feed it instructions and it will use that to form basically any shape that you want, whether it's a utensil or a replica of the White House," he said. "You can go on the Internet, find a design, download it, send it to your 3D printer, and in the course of either several minutes or several hours, depending on how large your order is, it will construct this thing. What's fascinating about it is the limits are only as far as the imagination goes."
After the 2012 London Olympic games Michael Phelps becomes the greatest most decorated athlete of all time; with a total of 71 medals in major international competition. Winning 57 Gold’s, 11 Silvers and 3 Bronze spanning the Olympics, The Worlds and the Pan Pacific Championships. And also in 2012 Mo Farah won the 10,000m and 5,000m Gold at the London 2012 Olympics - the first Brit to win Gold in these events.
Sadly and surprisingly Britain had one of the highest mortality rates in Europe for under-14’s because gaps in provision are denying children access to care. A report published by the NHS Confederation, recommends that the Government tackles the lack of policy co-ordination between departments, particularly health and education and other national bodies. Transition points, such as moving from child to adult services or primary to secondary care can result in service users ‘dropping off the radar’ of support agencies.
Mark Bridge of The Times highlighted the worst ‘scrooges’ of 2012, where Barclays Bank topped the Times list. The banking giant made headlines in June when it was fined £59.5 million for its part in the Libor-fixing affair, but was also the most complained about organisation to the Financial Services Ombudsman for the first six months of 2012.
Second on the Times worst business awards for 2012 was Vodafone,  where they report how this service provider actually makes profits from phone thefts; but by far its worst atrocity of the year related to the tragic death of Julian Litchfield’s son, who was killed in a walking accident in the summer, yet his phone was never found. When Julian phoned Vodafone to explain the circumstances he was told by several members of staff that he would have to pay the rest of his son’s mobile contract until it expired in January 2013 (Bridge, M; The Times, 29.12.12, p.55 & p.58).
The worst leader award however has to go to Mark Taylor, Dean of Warwick Business School, who has to be the worst leader I’ve ever met in the last 30 years – imho his colonial, autocratic style has no place in a business world that not only embraces, but cries out for, transformational leadership.
Director James Cameron accomplished the first solo dive down to the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth, 11 kilometers below the Pacific Ocean. On the other end of the spectrum, Felix Baumgartner accomplished the highest skydive ever, by jumping from literally the edge of space, 24-miles high.  Though he did not break the free fall record at 4 minutes and 20 seconds, he was the first to break the sound barrier without a jet or space shuttle.  Oh, and by the way, he landed on his feet.
We have a lot to do in the next twelve months and need strong professional leaders to set the right course. We mustn’t forget that it wasn’t that long ago that people were convinced the world was flat and we have to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap with respect to job creation and business growth. There seems to be a very casual approach by many first world countries to the plight of their own citizens, as salaries and wages are frozen, yet basic costs increase at rates above the consumer price index and this needs to change in 2013.
Finally let’s not forget those who left us in 2012 for a better place, names that included:
22nd December: Job W. Price, 42, American naval officer, commanding officer of SEAL Team 4, suspected suicide.
14th December: The twenty children and six teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut.
26th November: Joseph Murray, 93, American doctor and Nobel laureate (1990), who performed the first kidney transplantation, from hemorrhagic stroke
22nd November: Bryce Courtenay, 79, South African-born Australian novelist (The Power of One), from stomach cancer.
14th November: Koro Kepa, c. 93, New Zealand soldier, last surviving Ngāi Tūhoe member of the 28th Maori Battalion.
18th October: Sylvia Kristel, 60, Dutch actress (Emmanuelle), model, and singer, from throat and liver cancer.
14th October: Marc Swayze, 99, American comic book artist (Captain Marvel).
9th October: Paddy Roy Bates, 91, British pirate radio broadcaster, founder of the Principality of Sealand, from Alzheimer's disease.
27th September: Herbert Lom, 95, Czech-born British actor (The Pink Panther, Spartacus, Gambit, The Ladykillers).
22nd September: Irving Adler, 99, American author, mathematician, and scientist.
25th August: Neil Armstrong, 82, American astronaut, first person to walk on the Moon, from complications from coronary artery bypass surgery.
6th August: Marvin Hamlisch, 68, American composer (The Way We Were, A Chorus Line) and arranger (The Sting), EGOT winner.
23rd July: Sally Ride, 61, American physicist and astronaut, first American woman in space, from pancreatic cancer
4th July: Eric Sykes, 89, British comedy writer (The Goon Show) and actor.
23rd June: Frank Chee Willeto, 87, American Navajo code talker in World War II, Congressional Silver Medal recipient, Vice President of the Navajo Nation (1998–1999).
7th June: F. Herbert Bormann, 90, American ecologist, who discovered acid rain.
21st May: Otis Clark, 109, American evangelist, oldest known survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, and butler (Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford), from natural causes.
2nd April: Ben Huan, 105, Chinese Buddhist master, honorary president of the Buddhist Association of China.
25th March: Lex, 12, American Marine service dog, awarded honorary Purple Heart, from cancer.
4th February: Florence Green, 110, British supercentenarian, last surviving veteran of World War I.
1st February: Angelo Dundee, 90, American boxing trainer (Muhammad Ali).
14th January: Arfa Karim, 16, Pakistani student, world's youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (2004–2008), from idiopathic epilepsy seizures.
12th January: Natalee Holloway, 18 (in 2005), American student, missing since 2005; declared legally dead on this date.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is It Okay for Executives and Directors to Show Their Emotions?

In my humble opinion the responsibilities of executives and directors extend way beyond their organisations and boardrooms to their communities as well. Where they should use their ‘wisdom’ to support their communities; bridge the gap between academia and business; stand up for issues others can’t fight for and be role models for others, both young and old. We need our executives and directors to show empathy and understanding at work; to be ‘in-tune’ with their employees and their environment - but is it okay for them to show raw emotions as well.
I have to confess that I watched an episode of undercover boss the other day and witnessed a CEO actually cry in front of his staff when he realised how dedicated his employees were to his organisation and how so many were suffering financially during the recession. The staff seemed deeply moved by his openness and you could see them resonate with his feelings towards them, seemingly bringing them closer together as human beings.
But is there a limitation on events that someone at that level can openly show their raw emotions for? This week I’ve been faced with the newspaper headlines that have touched me so deeply. We had twenty-six innocent children and teachers massacred in a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in the US. Part of the article describes how “the children were instructed to cover their eyes as they were led to safety and to a staging area in a nearby fire station, where their waiting parents could collect them. But for some parents it was a wait without end.”
It tells how Brendan Murray, aged 9, said he was in the gym with his class when they heard ‘lots of banging’. He said the teachers put the students in a nearby cupboard where they stayed huddled together for about fifteen minutes before police officers told them to leave the building. And there are emerging stories of the selfless sacrifice of the young teacher, Victoria Soto, who hid her children and faced the shooter, telling him the children were elsewhere, sacrificing her own life to save the lives of the children under her care, which even as I write this, brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.
Then another story about Mary Bowers, aged 28 who was hit by a lorry driver while cycling. The lorry driver was acquitted of dangerous driving by a jury, even though he admitted to have been speaking on his mobile phone when the incident happened. His punishment was a fine (and not a big fine at that) whereas young Mary is minimally conscious more than a year after the incident and according to her family will require 24-hour care for the rest of her life.
And then this week we’ve also had the story of Jacintha Saldanha, a dedicated nurse who was found dead after putting through a prank call from an Australian radio station at the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated. It’s been reported that she left three suicide notes, including one criticising hospital management – though senior management claim they responded with support and understanding, telling her that no blame was attached to her.
There are a few common themes for me with these stories, firstly there is never a right time for them to happen, but to happen days before the Christmas and festive holidays must just add to the unimaginable pain that those involved have to carry.
Second I have absolutely no connection with any of these events, and don’t know the people involved even remotely – yet I feel so much sadness and pain for them.
People look at business owners and executives to set an example, to be role models and to use their knowledge and wisdom to set the standards that will make this world a better place and I just wonder if were doing anything close to enough.
In some countries if you don’t have the money, then those with basic mental health issues can’t get the attention they need – and if you add this to a nation with liberal gun laws you are more than likely to ensure things progress to a fatal level for some. Every time there’s a massacre of innocent people, then, just for a moment we all stop and wonder what we could do differently – without actually changing anything.
What have we done as ‘leaders’ that makes people think it is okay to speak on a mobile phone while driving in the first place? What have we done to stop encouraging presenters to think it is okay to make prank calls with absolutely no concern about the people being ‘pranked’ as long as it improves the ratings?
Is it only about money? It seems to be – yet I would suggest that with the right care and attention to the ‘detail’ all these events and God knows how many others could have been prevented.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered this year and pray that the leaders of this world, from all walks of life, business, politics and religion, can stop bickering about the ‘small’ issues and step up and make this world a truly better place.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Have You Implemented CSR Projects in the Recession?

With 2012 coming to an end and the impact of the recession still being felt around the world how committed has your organisation been to Corporate Social Responsibility. Many organisations are now showing steady increases in profits and wealth, so why are so many charities and people around the world suffering.
Jamie Doward mentions in the Observer today that “the UK's flat-lining economy is having a devastating effect on charities, according to research that suggests that two out of five face closure, with many set to disappear as early as next year unless things improve.
A poll commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation confirms that public spending cutbacks and falling donations are conspiring to devastating effect. The foundation warns that as many as one in six charities believe they may close in the coming year, while nearly half say they are being forced to dip into reserves. One in three says they fear being forced to cut services.” (The Observer, 9th December 2012)
This is supported by the Charities Commission which is forecasting a 33% reduction in funding by 2014.
What’s even more concerning is that most of the reports about charity closures and the lack of donations seem to put the ‘responsibility’ firmly at the door of the public, rather than corporation’s; where it’s the corporations that have signed up to be socially responsible – though often have very little to show for it, other than flowery words of commitment.
So why is this happening and how does this line-up with the recent upsurge in ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and the impact this ‘recent’ business philosophy is supposed to have on core business values. Visit the websites of most organisations these days, regardless of where they are situated around the world and you’re more than likely to find that section that tells you how committed they are to corporate social responsibility and their local community. Few though are specific about what they do and often a quick glance at their annual reports show little sign of corporate social responsibility in practice.
The recession has hit first world countries that seem to be completely at sea in dealing with the amount of people suddenly finding themselves below the poverty line – seemingly trying to brush the extent of the suffering in their countries under the carpet. For example, in 2010 the US Census Bureau identified record levels of 46.2 million people living in poverty in the US of which 5.8 million were in California and this increased to 48.5 million in 2011 – where to give some perspective to the numbers, the total population of the UK is 63 million.
Some may argue that first world countries don’t really understand the concept of poverty when they still have access to running water, electricity, sanitation and health care; which are sadly lacking in their third world counterparts.   
Jamie Doward highlights how “along with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Caf has launched a campaign, Back Britain's Charities, that calls on the government, businesses and the public to get behind the nation's charitable organisations. It wants the government to modernise and promote gift aid and payroll giving so that donations go further. It is also calling on businesses to support charities either through donations or practical means.”
As John Low, Caf's chief executive says “charities of all sizes play an essential role in our society, providing social care and education as well as helping some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, we all need to act now to support Britain's charities so they can continue their vital work."
Of course charity isn’t just about poverty, but about supporting vulnerable people who need care and attention, from the old and frail; the disabled; orphaned and homeless children; and all forms of abuse and neglect; to name a few, where the state and private sector need to do a lot, lot more.
Finally this isn’t just Britain’s problem, but a global problem that needs serious attention from those that can make a real difference. Profitable organisations around the globe need to show more commitment to their Corporate Social Responsibility charters – taking their well written value statements off their web pages and bringing them to life in the real world and making a real contribution to the community that supports them.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How Secure is Your Organisations Future?

It was Jim Collins who said “every institution is vulnerable, no matter how great. No matter how much you’ve achieved, no matter how far you’ve gone, no matter how much power you’ve garnered, you are vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do,” (p.8).
There is a danger that as organisations ‘work’ their way out of the recession, that they may start to relax and take their eye off the ball. It’s not unrealistic as 2012 has been a tough year for many organisations and employees have had to work hard to keep their company’s afloat. It’s at times like these that people at all levels, can relax a bit, feeling the hard work has been done, that the ‘storm’ is over and that the company looks well set for the future.
Jim Collins reminds us, from empirical research that a company can indeed look like the picture of health on the outside yet already be in decline – and that’s what makes the process of decline so terrifying; it can sneak up on you, and then – seemingly all of a sudden – you’re in big trouble.
In tough times it’s very possible, in fact likely, that key benchmarks and drivers will change, where organisations are looking at survival (short-term) compared to the ‘perceived luxury’ of sustainable growth and continuous improvement (long-term). The concept is fine as long as you constantly reassess the variables you are benchmarking yourself against, and make the transition to a longer term view at the right time. If you simply stay in ‘survival’ mode you are much more likely to miss longer term opportunities, which may have already been picked up by your competition, leading to a real false sense of security in your present business environment. This will mean that you are not aware or prepared to compete in the forthcoming market space, which is currently being influenced by competitors and, possibly, new entrants (organisations that diversified in the recession).
Jim Collins believed that if there was one rule, above all others, to use as a warning sign of potential decline, “it would be a declining proportion of the seats filled with the right people. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, you should be able to answer the following questions: What are the key seats in your organisation? What percentage of those seats can you say with confidence are filled with the right people? What are your plans for increasing that percentage? What are your backup plans in the event that a right person leaves a key seat?” (p.57).
Making sure that your organisation isn’t taking ‘strategic’ shortcuts to stay afloat is vital. This means that your approach to strategic review, development and implementation is pivotal in identifying and optimising future opportunities. Even in a recession opportunities are out there for the taking and you’ll only spot them if you are taking a detailed longer term strategic view – since it’s the depth and integrity of the inputs that truly define the outputs.
Jim Collins believed that “great leaders understood that rebuilding greatness requires a series of intelligent, well executed actions that add up one on top of another. Some decisions are bigger than others, but even the biggest decisions account for only a small fraction of the total outcome that makes a great company. Most ‘overnight success’ stories are about twenty years in the making,” (p.94).
Businesses and markets are evolving all the time, and moving through a global recession is no different. This December some organisations will be patting themselves on the back, acknowledging how well they have done to outrun the effects of the recession. But be wary and don’t lose sight of the longer term view, assessing competitor developments in your market space and reassuring yourself that you are well placed to take the lead in 2013.
For those organisations that are still struggling, Jim Collins warns us to be careful, “when we find ourselves in trouble, when we find ourselves on the cusp of falling, our survival instinct – and our fear – can evoke lurching, reactive behaviour absolutely contrary to survival. The very moment when we need to take calm, deliberate action, we run the risk of doing the exact opposite and bringing about the very outcomes we most fear,” (p.96).
Collins, J. (2009). How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In.  Random House Business Books:London