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Silver Bullets: Have You Found Yours?

Aug 17, 2007
Its amazing that when business seek to change or worse if things start to slide in any economy, rising or declining, managers start looking for the silver bullet. The solution to end all solutions. It tells the shareholders they are in charge and doing something. Perhaps not much, but, by golly, something is going to happen.

Is there any attempt at logic as to what needs to be done? Mostly not. We have company directors who hand out the latest management fad book, often written by someone with very little business experience but a great editor and some marketing dollars behind the publisher. There are even guru specific concepts to which business succumb, some of these are plain weird, for all involved, but dubious as to their results. Team bonding and building exercises as well as ropes courses abound. Even training by ex jet fighter pilots! Then there are the indoor courses for those not wanting to interact too violently with nature. We see companies taking on facilitators of Open Space Technology, which uses no technology, by the way, while attempting to uncover the ails of an organization through open but weakly facilitated meetings. The names are pretty compelling, if nothing else.

Today we have heard how GE turned its self around. Often people think that it was done with the aid of Six Sigma, the behemoth of a program that names its team members after clothing items to establish a pecking order. Weird. Well, it wasnt the only program they had in place, it was part of a program they dubbed work-out to work out the problems that had become part of their businesses. Six Sigma was one of many tentacles acting throughout the organization. In the days of work-out some divisions went for years before they were deemed ready for Six Sigma. There were many other issues to be tackled before this process and it s rigors were introduced. Nowadays we have quality staff and managers scrambling to get trained, so as to offer themselves some downsizing protection by being better trained and more hirable! Nice ROI for the sponsoring company.

We are seeing the same with the program that throws Japanese terms around to it is disciples. Companies blindly sign up and hope that things will improve. Hey, guess what? They do. For a while, then it is business as usual, and the slippery slope continues. Diehards will say See, it didnt work for us, we are different. Kaizen to you too!

Remember the Hawthorne experiment? Lights brighter, people work more productively, lights dimmer, people work more productively? Yip, if you are being watched you work harder. Homer Simpson couldnt have said it better, Duh.

The next fad we are seeing on the rise is the coach and mentor approach. Managers hire coaches or mentors, in some cases, people with dubious business experience, asking people how they feel about it all. These people are not accountable to anyone and management has no way of measuring their effectiveness if there is no system in place to do so. It s a great few hours chat with a friend on company time. Coaches and mentors work when they are specific, the exCEO mentors the incumbent CEO, or an up and comer. Sales people are mentored by an expert salesperson and held accountable to certain objectives jointly set. Dont get me wrong the right mentor can be a very powerful person in an executives life and even in a business as a whole.

Watch an organization that throws its weight against a program in isolation to other factors and I ll show you an organization in trouble. Management has no idea where to look and how to act. A program is the best thing they can think of. The best known names are the winners. Like hiring IBM for your IT needs, you cant go wrong. WRONG, of course you can. Managers and leaders alike need to apply more commonsense or discretion in selecting the next fix.

So what works? In essence they can all work. Given commitment and motivation to see them through. Dont stop a failure, which may show that you havent understood the full impacts of your change, learn form the failures and move forward. Back to GE. They worked-out over a number of years issues to reconstitute business. It takes time to figure out the organization structure, the processes, the systems, information systems, technology, the people, their tasks, competencies, gaps.

So is there a simple answer? No, it requires a holistic, systematic approach. No single process or system is going to turn you around instantly, it needs to be holistic, systematic; focusing only on process or implementing an ERP or CRM isnt really going to make your division or organization skyrocket! Mangers and business owners often forget that people are important too. They may talk about their greatest assets being their staff, but push comes to shove staff are treated like simple resources. Then the thought is a motivational speaker will make the difference? Get the picture?

Theres no silver bullet. Develop your business from the ground up. Define and describe your strategies so that everybody understands them. Bring your staff into the picture. Develop your staff and let them create their goals and objectives that support the organizations goals. In some instances, this may mean each employee has his or her own dashboard of key measures that tie back to departmental goals, which in turn tie back to the corporate goals. This series of cascading dashboards is difficult to accomplish but worth the effort because it enforces strategic alignment company-wide. With employee performance management, each person can understand the company's strategy in terms they can relate to: how they can personally help the company to achieve its mission. Do not rush this, as it will create a performance-oriented culture.

Get focused on the big picture. No silver bullets, Im afraid.

About the Author
Graeme Nichol Arcturus Advisors (http://www.arcturusadvisors.com)works with business leaders and their businesses to close the gap between great strategies and mediocre results. (Newsletter arcturusadvisor@aweber.com)
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