EQUALITY – WORTH THE BOTHER?

26 06 2013

Committed_to_Equality_1I haven’t written on the value to business of understanding equality for a while however an email exchange from this morning leaves me compelled to wonder whether many still view it as something not worth the bother.

There are many very good reasons to ensure that your business takes Equality seriously. Of course, the biggest driver for many is the desire not to fall foul of the law even if, at the back of their minds, many view meeting the requirements of the Equality Act (2010) as little more than red tape.

It would be nice to believe that in the 21st century laws to ensure access to equal treatment for all are not necessary and that we all seek to accommodate our fellow human beings as best we possibly can. Sadly that is not the case and I am not naïve enough to believe it is.

That does not mean most people deliberately put barriers in the way of others. What does happen is that ignorance drives practice and the right questions are not asked, reasonable solutions not found. For that is all that the 2010 Act requires; that reasonable adjustments be made.

But other than the legal and the ‘human’ reasons for trying to provide equal access to all for your company or organisation there is another; good business practice. It might sound obvious but I will say it anyway, the easier it is for more people to access your company or organisation, the more likely it is they will use your products or services.

Which brings me back to that email exchange from this morning…..

I will shortly be acting as an expert witness in a court case. While most know me as an expert in Strategy, in this case I will be appearing specifically as an expert in Equality Strategy. Earlier today I received an email from a solicitor asking that I pass comment on a document he had prepared for the Court. He was keen that if we were to be arguing a case based on equality, any documents submitted must reflect both expertise and belief in that area.

The content of both the solicitor’s email and the attachment read well and were factually correct, however both fell short of his aim due to his poor choice of font. I commented as such, suggested a different font and advised him why it made a difference.

His reply interested me. The attached document was now presented in a good, accessible font. However his email remained in the original font. I remarked on this over the phone and, to paraphrase his reply, was told, “Oh, that’s okay, the Court won’t see that.”

This attitude is not uncommon in businesses and organisations in all sectors. Government departments, local government, charities, sports clubs and others all discriminate against significant sections of society because they can’t be bothered to change once their ‘ignorances’ are pointed out to them.

The law requires reasonable adjustments be made. I believe changing the default font setting on emails is reasonable. I do not believe that not being bothered is but, to date, no test case has been brought to support my view.

But beyond the law, what about running a successful business, department, charity, club or whatever? Does it make sense to deliberately make it more difficult for large parts of society to work with you? Does it make sense not to make access as easy as competitors who do make reasonable adjustments? Does it make sense not to steal a march on competitors who do not make those reasonable adjustments?

You tell me. The example of the poor choice of font used above could negatively impact on dyslexics accessing and making use of that solicitor’s services. Ten percent of the population are dyslexic, 4% severely so. Even at four percent, that is potentially 2.4 million customers (UK) you are gifting to your competitors. Why? Because you can’t be bothered.

The Equality Act of 2010 is the legal driver behind businesses and organisations in all sectors making reasonable adjustments which will provide improved access for all. Some call it red tape, I prefer to think of it as acting like a decent human being.

But even if the legal and the human reasons don’t drive you to reasonable adjustment, maybe the business case should?

If you can be bothered.

 

If you would like to find out more about this topic and/or would like to discuss arranging an Equality Audit for your business or organisation, please drop me a line to the email address below.

Also on Equality:

Equality – No Room For Excuses (2012)

Equality and Ignorance Driven Insanity in Business (2012)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





CORPORATE STRATEGY: NOT A NEW IDEA BUT NOT AS OLD AS YOU THOUGHT

3 06 2013

strategyAt a recent speaking engagement I was comparing how new Corporate Strategy is when compared to Military Strategy or the strategy of training for performance sport. I was later asked if I could write a short piece about the birth of Corporate Strategy. Happy to oblige, here it is.

Strategy as a concept has been around for centuries, for millennia. The first published thoughts on strategy are commonly believed to be the works of Sun Tzu and Wu Tzu from 2500 years ago. Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is still essential reading in military academies around the world and should probably be required reading for business leaders too.

For 2300 years the principles of strategy, of formally identifying what success looks like and planning a route to achieve it was left to the military. That is until the early 1800s when ‘pedestrianists’ – early race walkers – took to planning their training, albeit in somewhat basic format. In the late 19th century athletes took up formal planning and gradually the idea of developing strategies for the training of sportspeople evolved and developed into the science (and art) of today.

Meanwhile, the post-industrial revolution world awaited ‘strategy’ in any formal sense. Managers and leaders thought and planned after a fashion but with little genuine cohesion and it was not until the 1950s that the term ‘strategy’ was regularly applied in a business context.

Then, in 1965, along came H Igor Ansoff and the business world would never be the same again. Ansoff’s publication ‘Corporate Strategy’ introduced the term, new thinking and the formulation and implementation of ‘strategic management’ and suddenly corporate strategy became a requirement for all businesses, large and small.

Ansoff stated that strategy was, ‘a rule for making decisions.’ He distinguished between objectives, which set the goals, and strategy, which set the path to the goals; something many modern businesses have forgotten. ‘Corporate Strategy’ also stated firmly that ‘structure follows strategy’ – something else a significant minority (majority?) of modern managers and leaders overlook.

Ansoff flagged up the important issue that has troubled formulation of strategy ever since; most decisions are made inside a framework of limited resources. Whatever size the company is, strategic decisions mean making choices between alternative resource commitments.

The process defined by Ansoff typically unfolds thus:

  • Mission Statement and Objectives – describe the company’s mission, vision and values and define measurable strategic (and financial) objectives.
  • Environmental scanning – the gathering of internal and external information analysing the company, its industry and the wider environment (e.g. the 5 Forces of Competition, SWOT and PEST analyses, etc.).
  • Strategy formulation – competitive advantage, core competence, corporate thinking, ‘inside out and outside in’.
  • Strategy implementation – communicating the strategy, organising resources and motivating teams to deliver.
  • Evaluation and control – measure, compare, adjust.

Since Ansoff, writing about Corporate Strategy has grown to become an industry all of its own and, like all industries, it is populated by the good, the bad and the indifferent. The growth of the internet has seen a boom in ‘off the shelf’ strategy templates for business. For the individual seeking text books on the topic it is now a case of caveat emptor. For the businessman seeking a quick fix download it is a world populated with poor options and little else.

Strategy should be personal, borrowed templates will never deliver quality. There are no short cuts, getting strategy right and, beyond that, of quality, is hard work.

But then, it was ever so. As Sun Tzu wrote 2500 years ago; “Strategy is the great work of the organisation.”

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





THATCHER: A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY MISSED?

23 04 2013
pic: guardian.co.uk

pic: guardian.co.uk

A week on from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral I am left wondering whether one of the most important lessons from her time as Prime Minister has been missed. To those with right leaning tendencies she appears unable to have ever done wrong while those to the left insist she could do no right.

Right or left, those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, something politicians of all hues have been doing since she left office and, no doubt will continue to do into the future.

Whichever space on the political spectrum your views occupy, there was one thing about Margaret Thatcher and her time as Prime Minister everyone appears to agree on; she polarised views. However the problem with such polarised views, such extremes of adoration and hatred, is that they get in the way of reasonable analysis.

That same thing; reasonable analysis of the available data, should be at the heart of the development of any kind of quality strategy and its absence from the politics of the Thatcher era (and, indeed, since) has seriously undermined the quality of strategy coming from government then and since. Then and now we are served a diet of initiative-led rather than strategy led policy delivery and that can only serve up problems for the future.

To explain what I mean, I will use two of Mrs Thatcher’s flagship policies as examples and explain how delivering them as single initiatives rather than integrating them into longer term strategy has led to some of the problems we face today. I should emphasise that this is a modern-day cross-party problem, not simply a ‘throw-back’ to a bygone era.

The first of those policies was that of allowing council house tenants to buy their homes. Surely, not a bad thing and at the time a very popular initiative. Unfortunately, in implementing the initiative little consideration was given to cause and effect. The policy was not examined in terms of what else needed to happen for it to prove successful in the medium to long-term and hence no strategy integrating the servicing of all requirements was developed. Reasonable analysis was absent.

Cause and effect? Today we have a massive housing crisis in the UK. Social housing stock was sold off and never replaced. Those who purchased their homes in the 80s and 90s have seen the value increase enormously while those now looking for a home either cannot afford their own home or struggle to pay private rents and have little or no hope of ever finding social housing. More over 30s live at home with their parents than at any time in history.

The second policy which seemingly made sense at the time was the wholesale privatisation of energy and utility companies (denationalisation). The thinking was that the State was poor at running them properly and that private companies would do a far better job. The public liked the idea and hundreds of thousands of people bought shares in the newly privatised companies.

Cause and effect? One of the primary responsibilities of the Board of any private company is to their shareholders. Profit is king. Although few have joined the dots from privatisation to where we are today, the result is energy companies seeking profits and customers far from happy with ever-increasing bills. A very popular initiative/policy had failed to look to an inevitable future. Reasonable analysis was absent.

I am not suggesting that either policy was right or wrong. What I am suggesting is that a lack of good strategy, of analysis of cause and effect on future generations and national need meant that the policy/initiative of eighties contributed to the issues of today.

We cannot change the past but we can learn its lessons. Primary among those lessons is the importance of politicians thinking beyond the initiative of now and applying sound long-term strategy to their policies. Had that happened in the eighties the housing crisis might have been averted and household energy bills might be more manageable.

Unfortunately politicians of all parties have continued to put initiative led policy before policy led by sound strategy. They put aside or ignore that reasonable analysis of history’s lessons, of likely cause and effect to which I referred above.

Regardless of your personal political beliefs, perhaps we should agree that the most beneficial legacy left by the Iron Lady would be if our current day and future politicians learned a little more about cause and effect and the value of good strategy.

The lessons are there to be learned if any of them care to look.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





WHAT IS CORE COMPETENCE?

7 02 2013

Oak TreeIt has been argued that core competencies are the true source of competitive advantage. But might understanding ‘core competence’ mean a rethink of the concept of corporation?

The term ‘Core Competence’ as applied to the competitive advantage of a business has only existed since 1990 when the Harvard Business Review published Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad’s paper; ‘The Core Competence of the Corporation.’ Reacting against the decentralised business portfolio strategy then being followed (and still followed today) by many large corporations, they argued that instead of a portfolio of businesses housed in standalone strategic business units (SBUs), companies should identify their portfolio of competences and plan to these.

The corporate world of 1990 was one where western companies were beginning to feel they had stemmed the growth in competition from lost cost, high quality Japanese imports. The western companies were catching up in these areas and the competitive advantage enjoyed by the Japanese through the 70s and 80s was diminishing.

The Japanese responded with wave after wave of new products in new markets. Honda diversified from cars and motor cycles to buggies, lawn mowers, boats and more.  Other Japanese companies diversified in similar ways.

As in the 70s and 80s, the western companies were slow to react. Hamel and Prahalad identified that this was not because they had worse management or lesser technical capabilities. It was because top management lacked the vision to exploit the depth of technological capability their companies possessed; it’s ‘core competence.’

That core competence is defined as something that you do better than anyone else. The larger the company the closer to ‘world class’ the core competence should be. It produces a core product or an efficiency which is not an end product. Hence Honda’s core competence was (is) in engines and power trains; once they had identified this, the diversification of their product range around the core competence became a logical step.

For other companies it is different. For example, Black and Decker’s core competence is in small electric motors. Having recognised this, their product range grew to include a multitude of products from lawn mowers to vacuum cleaners and from power tools to electric can openers. Core competencies open the way to many different markets and in thinking about how to exploit these markets, an environment which encourages innovation is created (Honda call it ‘the power of dreams’).

Hamel and Prahalad laid down three tests to identify a core competence:

  • ·         It provides potential access to a wide range of markets
  • ·         It provides a significant contribution to perceived customer benefit of the end product
  • ·         It is difficult to imitate

Therefore, being world-class at producing an ordinary component will not bestow competitive advantage. A core competence makes a disproportionate contribution to customer value and must be judged relative to the competition. It is something your competitors envy and wish they had.

Back to 1990 and Hamel and Prahalad identified how, in trying to match the new, core competence based competition coming from Japan, western companies mistook what was happening and some even deliberately (but unknowingly) lost or gave away their own core competence.

Where Honda recognised their core competence was in engines and power trains, Chrysler saw them as just another component and outsourced their manufacture. Short-term, in doing so Chrysler created a more competitive product but in the medium to long-term such a move contributed nothing to maintaining and developing the skills required to retain product leadership.

Hamel and Prahalad saw such decentralisation as ‘the tyranny of the SBU’ – the enemy of core competence. SBUs tend to the present focusing on maximising today’s sales, tending to be tactic not strategy led. What competencies they have tend to be hoarded and a reluctance to lend talented people to other SBUs develops. New opportunities are neither explored nor developed.

The job of management should be to develop an organisation-wide ‘strategic architecture’ – a road map to the future identifying which competencies to build and what technology they need. Core competencies are corporate resources and SBUs should have to bid for them just as they bid for capital resource. Reward systems and career paths should break free of SBU silos and key employees should be weaned off the idea that they belong to one particular strand (SBU) of the business.

Hamel and Prahalad described this diversified company as a large tree with trunk and limbs as its core products, the smaller branches as strategic business units and the leaves, flowers and fruit as the end products. The root system that nourishes, sustains and stabilises the tree is the core competence.

If you look only at the leaves of a tree,” they said, “you won’t notice its strength. In the same way, you may fail to see the strength of your competitors if you look only at their end products.

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, February 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





HOUSTON: IT’S YOU WHO HAS THE PROBLEM!

17 12 2012

NASAIt is a line which became synonymous with the early days of space exploration and it fell into common usage as a term used whenever things were going wrong; “Houston, we have a problem.”

Only today it is Houston or, more precisely, NASA who has the problem. Why? The organisation used by consultants around the world as an example of quality Visioning has forgotten how to do quality Vision.

I am among the many Strategy Consultants who, when asked to cite a great example of what a Vision should look like has quoted NASA’s Vision originally stated by John F Kennedy on 25th May 1961:

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

As a Vision it had everything a good Vision requires. It was measurable, it had a clear deadline, it was inspiring and motivational, it was achievable and it clearly sign-posted the way for the focus of the ensuing NASA Strategy which ultimately led to its being achieved.

Fast forward from the 1960s to the 2010s and things have drastically changed. Much of the discussion around the future of space flight appears to emanate from the private sector within the USA or from other nations not previously viewed as ‘space powers.’ NASA is slipping behind.

A recent report from the Space Foundation declared; “NASA’s 2011 Strategic Plan is no longer viable.” Others are declaring that neither NASA’s workforce, the US people nor the international community are inspired or motivated to achieve the goal previously stated of visiting an asteroid by 2025. (Source: Aviation Week).

In short, the pioneers and early pacesetters have flown off course. But why?

I would suggest that they need to do little more that look at their current stated Vision* and compare it to that of 1961. They should ask themselves; “is this measurable, does it have a clear deadline, will it inspire and motivate our people to strive for its achievement? Indeed, is it even a Vision?”

The answer will be a resounding no on all points.

While NASA need to look to their past to recognise a better route to their future, for businesses large and small around the world they still teach a simple yet vital lesson in Strategy, a lesson so many still get wrong:

The more specific and clearly stated your Vision, the easier it is to plan for its attainment, the more likely you are to achieve success.

It is a lesson which you forget at your peril!

*NASA’s current stated Vision is:

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

It is classic bad Visioning; confusing Mission with Vision thereby omitting the very thing which gives Strategy direction!

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





STRATEGY AND TACTICS – THE DIFFERENCE AND THE RELATIONSHIP

7 07 2012

For many, when talking about strategy what they actually mean is tactics. For some, one is applied but not the other while for others the terms are used interchangeably without full comprehension.

Matters are not helped when, as I found at a recent talk, some consultants and coaches use the terms incorrectly. It struck me that a plain English explanation of what each is and how they inter-relate might be useful…..

Let me start by disposing of a common myth; that strategy is the ‘what’ while tactics are the ‘how’. While this sounds convenient and is repeated in a number of articles on various websites and in a number of books, it is incorrect.

The ‘what’ precedes strategy; it is the vision, the goal or the aim. It is a clear description of what success looks like. While vital to successful strategy, it is not the strategy itself and is not what I am explaining today.

The definition of strategy I use is; ‘a plan or design for achieving one’s aims.’ Note that the aim(s) is (are) already defined, that the strategy is the plan, the ‘how’ which describes how that aim will be achieved.

A good vision will look to the long-term and therefore the strategy which delivers that vision will describe the journey over the medium to long-term. In doing this, there is a point at which planning in too much detail is pointless. The variables become impossible to describe, define and decide between. Therefore strategy tends to the bigger picture elements of ‘how’ deliberately overlooking fine, detailed planning.

That component of the strategy is best done short-term when variables are known and more easily managed. This element of the ‘how’ is called tactics. The definition of tactics is; ‘procedures or set of manoeuvres engaged to achieve some end or aim.

The tactics are a component of strategy, they are not separate. Where strategy is the big picture plan for delivering success, tactics are the detailed components which ensure the strategy stays on course and on time.

For many organisations the short-term planning, is all they do. For others the big picture is where planning begins and ends. For others the vision, the picture of success is vague leading to ineffective planning, whether strategy or tactics or both, in pursuit of an ill-defined aim.

Think of it like building a house. Before you can start you need to know what the finished article will look like. This is your vision. In order to build it you need to know what order things need to be built-in, where the walls go, how high the ceilings will be, how the eventual owner will access it and more. This is your strategy. However, before the house is complete and will ‘work’ you need more detail; central heating, double glazing, wiring, gas connections, lights, maybe a letter box, door handles, security features and more. These are your tactics.

In your business you should be able to describe what long-term success looks like (your vision). Without, what are you planning for? In pursuit of that vision you should have a plan or plans addressing the main elements that must be achieved and in what order (your strategy). Without, how will you achieve your vision? How will you know what you should be doing and when (to any purpose)? To ensure that strategy becomes successful strategy you should break it down into detailed plans which leave no stone unturned (your tactics). Without, you have no more than only a general idea of what to do but without specifics.

It is not wise to plan tactics too far in advance, tactical planning should be conducted no more than 12 months in advance, often less. Beyond that, the landscape is too changeable and unspecific, detailed planning becomes less reliable.

In summary, strategy is how you deliver success and, far from being different or separate, tactics are key components of every successful strategy. With strategy alone, with luck you might just get there, with tactics alone you are doing no more than being busy for the sake of being busy.

Or, as Sun Tzu put it 2500 years ago; ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

 Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





WHEN HEARING “IT’S NOT MY JOB” IS A GOOD THING

18 06 2012

We have all been there, getting increasingly frustrated when confronted with that “it’s not my job” mentality. Sometimes it’s a call centre, other times it’s face to face but we have probably all encountered companies whose staff appear happy to avoid helping you, safe in the knowledge that it isn’t their job.

It reflects poorly on them and it reflects poorly on the organisations for who they work. And yet, every now and then hearing someone say; “it’s not my job,” far from being frustrating, is a breath of fresh air and a sure sign of a well-run business.

The 24 hours of Le Mans. More than a race it is a test of man (or woman) and machine, of speed and endurance, of engineering excellence and motoring reliability. In this environment, everything has to be planned to the nth degree; the tiniest malfunction can finish you.

Add to that the pressure of being a team not only expected to secure overall victory but to do so using a new technology making its first outing at this classic event.

This was the position Audi found themselves in over the weekend. They had four cars entered; all diesels but two were also showcasing Audi’s E-Tron Quattro technology, a hybrid engine.

With less than three of the 24 hours to go the two E-Tron Quattro cars were vying for the lead when, out of the blue, a potentially race wrecking incident occurred. One of the Audi’s (car #2) was surprised when lapping a back-marker, expecting it to break one way and leave a space, it broke the other. Driver Allan McNish took avoiding action and in the blink of an eye was off the track and hitting the Armco barrier.

McNish carefully drove his heavily damaged number 2 Audi back to the pits and a seemingly huge repair job commenced.

Eurosport dispatched an interviewer to find out what the damage was and whether the car would even rejoin the race.

Visibly excited, the interviewer asked Audi’s Head of Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, “What is wrong? Can you repair it? What is happening in the garage?

Calmly Dr Ullrich replied; “I don’t know. That is not my job.

This was no passing the buck, frustrate and move on, ‘not my job’ comment. This was a comment born of supreme confidence. Confidence that every possible angle had been planned, confidence that everybody in the Audi team knew their job and, importantly, also knew what was not their job. It was confidence that he didn’t need to interfere, that if the car could be returned to race, it would be.

Less than three hours later the Audi’s crossed the line to complete the twenty-four hours of Le Mans in formation, taking a clean sweep of the podium with the E-Tron Quattros in first and second place. Incredibly the number 2 Audi had not only been repaired but had finished the race only one lap down on the number 1 Audi.

This was not only a feat of engineering and mechanical reliability, nor only of exceptional driving. This was a feat of planning, planning so specific, so detailed that every eventuality could be (and was) covered effectively, efficiently and economically.

I wonder how many Chief Executives, company Directors, business owners and middle managers have the assured confidence in their strategic planning and preparation that Dr Ullrich had in his?

Could you ever hear yourself saying; “I don’t know, that is not my job,” without worrying that you don’t?

Why not?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal