Read an article in Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategy and Business titled “Why Wait for Trouble”?
Cant say I enjoyed the magazine too much…it was no HBR. The articles were dense without a clear “take away” or application and the subject matter across the magazine was wide without a knife’s edge focus within each article to surface a salient point of view.
That being said…one article titled “Why Wait for Trouble?” by Kenneth W. Freeman talked about vital questions a turnaround specialist can ask when dropping into a new company. The use of a “turn around” specialist seems a bit too precise for my interests….as I believe the article and its discussion can apply to (a) execs moving to a new job(s), (b) an employee moving into a new role within his/her company or (c) taking on a new responsibilities within one’s current job.
The article talked about crises and diagnostic management. I will lay out the underlying questions poised in the article:
(1) “Is there evidence of imbalance or excess, either in the company or in the industry”?
Take Away: I thought about this question and wondered if this is applicable in understanding a company or department (or other granular application) vis-à-vis a department or company’s competition. A manager will have a tough time if he/she doesn’t understand if his/her company’s product is a commodity, what the level of demand from consumers is for a product or service, deep understanding of consumption patterns and whether they have changed, whether the industry is evolving and a company’s product offering vs the competition and if there are new parameter’s to review.
Application: conducting some basic SWOT analyses, comparing the competitors product offerings vis a vis one’s own or even something mundane such as summarizing the 5-10 competitors with 10-K info, public/private data (non financial), and position in the market (ie an X – Y graph with two salient variables on the axis), is an easy way to start. It sounds trivial, but often times the time invested in documenting the competitive set teases out findings or learnings that may not have been overt or explicit prior to such exercise?
(2) “Are the perceptions held by senior executives of the company aligned or contrary”?
Take Away: This raises the basic issue of communication within a company? Employees are busy, communication on the ground is “sweetened” as it goes up the chain to make it more digestible to the senior team. Engaging senior management and creating a situation where they can provide valuable feedback to strategic problems is much more valuable in the long term then reporting on the minutae of the ground level efforts and having a rubber stamp from above.
Application: Create a weekly or monthly summary of the business. Avoid the laundry list of “projects worked on” or “delivered” and instead take a step back and offer up three opportunities, three challenges to the franchise and three recommendations and solicit timely feedback. Make the communication more of a thought exercise vs a report card and summarization. Another area that can align interests is having senior execs review and interact with customer service. Without hearing the voice of the customer and understanding on a weekly basis what the end user is saying abou the product, its hard to think any meaningful change will take place if the product/org is not aligned or delivering what the customer “wants/needs”.
(3) “What is the level of accountability among the employees?”
Take Away: Are employees motivated? Is there a healthy appreciation of risk and opportunity to fail (without career limiting move type repercussions)? Accountability and having a voice go hand in hand. Creating a strong feedback mechanism is important to engage employees and make sure they take pride in their work and are on the hook for delivering.
Application: Accountability is difficult to monitor and even more difficult to instill. Senior managers need to be accessible…taking walks from the executive floor and interacting with the ground troops across the org. One of the CEO’s who presided over a company I worked at earlier in my career had a brown bag lunch once a month, in addition to popping by people’s offices/cubes every week. Each employee whose start date anniversary on that month was invited to the brown bag lunch (granted our company was 100…so probably not scalable…but certainly at the division level or dept head level). The lunch served as an opportunity for the rank and file to discuss issues with the CEO, ask questions, provide feedback etc. Win win from both sides of the table.
These three questions poised by the article are helpful in order to frame a problem or set of problems at an organization. Probably interesting exerices quarterly to review such questions from an organizational behavior standpoint and see if the answers or responses change throughout the year. A report card of sorts?