Seven Rules of Business Alignment

This article originally appeared in the The Cutter Journal on 30 November 2008.

Abstract

In this article, I describe an operating model for business alignment drawn from 27 years of experience, working for both consultancies and major end-user organisations in a variety of industries. The key points that come out of this experience are:

  • Alignment among all parties involved in business change is the issue: the business consists of multiple parties that need to be aligned; IT is just one of these parties.
  • The start point for alignment is communication.
  • Enterprise architecture is a vehicle for facilitating alignment.  It provides an information base that shows us where we are and allows us to assess potential futures.
  • Enterprise architecture as an approach has a part to play in business strategy, business change, and its traditional home in IT.
  • Enterprise architecture provides tools to understand, plan and govern change but for  effective delivery it must be integrated with program management
  • The information, stakeholders, and processes used to manage alignment through enterprise architecture are different but related for business strategy, business change, and IT.  Our change management organisation must draw on people from across the organisation at all levels.
  • Whereas alignment must be driven from “the Business”, it may not always be best equipped to do this, in this case it may need support in the form of “Business Architecture as a Service”

Communication

Anglo-American business communication has evolved a terse and concise style that is accepted as conventional wisdom.  I am guided by the editorial guidelines to adopt that style.  However, I will not fully comply.

Why?

I have learned both through instruction and experience that to communicate with those of differing backgrounds and cultures that saying the same thing in multiple ways, providing additional context and painting rich word pictures are essential.  If I do it and equally if those that I am communicating with do it then there is a greater prospect of mutual understanding.

This point is relevant in the discussion of alignment.  Alignment is a personal thing influenced by background and previous experience.  Misalignment is caused by misunderstanding.  Business effectiveness is better served by waffling to mutual comprehension than by adopting the cultural norm of clipped, brief and cryptic messages that are misunderstood.

The first rule of alignment is effective communication.

Definitions

Before I get into the core discussion, I need to set out some definitions to try to avoid misalignment of understanding and expectation:

TermDefinition
AlignmentThere is alignment between different areas of an organisation when they are working to towards mutual compatible goals and their actions to achieve those goals are coordinated and compatible.
Positive AlignmentIn addition to the actions being coordinated and compatible, the actions and activities that different areas of the organisation carry out are synergistic; they reinforce each other and create additional value.
ArchitectureArchitecture is the process that ensures you do the right things right.
IT ArchitectureIT architecture is the process that ensures that the right IT systems (i.e. they meet business functional and non-functional needs) are implemented in the right way (i.e. they make effective use of technology and resources).  It is requirements management and solution design at the enterprise level.
Business ArchitectureBusiness architecture is the process that ensures the business has the right internal and external boundaries, has correct governance, effective processes and capabilities to deliver its customer propositions, appropriately managed risk while meeting its financial targets.  It operates at the strategic, transformational and operational levels.
Enterprise ArchitectureEnterprise architecture is an encompassing governance framework that ensures that all areas of the business, including IT, operate in an aligned manner.  It negotiates between each area and balances the constraints that one area puts on another with the enablers that one business area puts on others.
Macro ArchitectureMacro architecture is concerned with the grand design of things.  It ensures that we have defined and agreed a conceptual solution.
Micro ArchitectureMicro architecture is about the implementation of our grand designs.  It ensures that we have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s.  We have removed the straw that will break the camel’s back and we have found the devil in the detail.

The second rule of alignment is develop a shared vocabulary.

Problems of non alignment

In all cases where I have been involved in setting up the control functions to ensure alignment during business change, it has been a clear and vividly communicated statement of the impact of failure that has persuaded the organisation to invest.  Key participants in the changes have understood, from their own or others past and painful experience, huge potential for serious error.  The following examples are taken from major organisations that did know better but did not act.

ScenarioUnintended consequences
Functionality in a customer service system is de-scoped in order to reduce timelinesThe functionality that was de-scoped would have saved 2 minutes per call in a call centre with an average call length of 5 minutes.  This issue was not identified until go-live.  However, call centre staff had been made redundant in line with the expected productivity improvement and call centres were understaffed for several weeks until functionality was completed.  Customer service was adversely impacted in this period.
Functionality in a back office system is de-scoped in order to reduce timelinesThe functionality removed was required to automate back office validation of high value distributor orders to support straight through processing for new B2B web channel.  Retaining the manual step would have meant that contractually agreed SLAs with distributors would have been breached.  Organization went live without any checks of high value orders in order to achieve SLAs and avoid losing the confidence of new distributors.  This put the organization at risk from fraud until the functionality was completed.
Go-live for a new eCommerce site was scheduled just after the peak trading for a retailerThis resulted in key user inputs being scheduled during the planning period for peak trading. These key users could not be made available resulting in major schedule slippage which damaged the business case. The consultancy carrying out the delivery work did not understand the business calendar and its implicit timing constraints in sufficient detail and did not communicate the implications of the schedule at a detailed level.
Operational business readiness was considered as a “business-as-usual” activity and not tracked by the project delivering and a new customer service systemThe delivery of new procedures, procedure manuals and training for call centre and back office staff was managed as part of the delivery project.  There was no budget available to pay overtime or bring in temporary staff in order to free up key staff to carry out these activities.  No-one was made accountable for business readiness.  The outcome was that at go-live the business was only part ready. Services targets were missed resulting a backlog of cases which took several weeks to clear through working extended hours in the call centres.
Business partner communication was considered as a “business-as-usual” activity and not tracked by the projectA financial services company was launching new products through its distributor channel.  The marketing function ran roadshows with the distributors based on the originally planned capabilities to be provided to distributors and delivery schedule unaware that both had been changed.  To its embarrassment, the company had to realign expectations through an additional communication program.
A customer service application was re-platformed in a change that was supposedly “transparent” to the business. Therefore the business were not informed of the changeThe performance characteristics of the new IT platform were markedly different to the old platform under real operational conditions.  Response terms were very poor at peak times resulting in staff resorting to manual paper operations.  A backlog of cases built up which was cleared over six weeks in overtime.  IT could be criticised for poor testing but, by not informing the business of their plans, they did not allow the business to assess the risk and put in place contingencies.
An IT supplier outsourced its B2B website delivery to its incumbent static website developerEarly releases were successful.  Then a release failed, the developer did not have a roll back plan and the web site was out of action for nine weeks resulting in a major revenue loss.
A call center system that had been upgraded to support a product launch.  The system was allowed to run with a number of problems for a weekThese “teething troubles” resulted in a large and growing backlog of cases and it was decided to roll back.  The roll back was cancelled when the huge scale of manual processing that would be required to support the new product was understood.  Instead the organisation hired temporary staff to process the backlog cases over several weeks.

Some of these examples, which are based on real issues within real organisations, should help develop an understanding of how small actions deep inside the organisation can have major impacts. They show that it is essential to have micro-level controls to deliver macro-level changes.

These examples show the consequences of poor management of change.  In summary,

  • At the strategic level, getting the macro structure wrong may mean significantly higher costs of operation, longer process execution times, longer time to market, and reduced competitiveness.
  • Similarly, with poorly defined business processes, there are likely to be higher costs of operation, longer process execution times, longer time to market, and reduced competitiveness.
  • Without a clear view of current business processes, target processes, and progress of all solution elements, delivering business change is likely to be very painful.
  • If business change is not under close control, then it will be near impossible to ensure that IT releases are coordinated with business change.

The third rule of alignment is understand the consequences of failure.

Alignment scenarios

Having defined alignment as an abstract concept, let us now consider some situations where is a necessity:

Scenario TypeScenariosIntended outcomes
Strategic change planningDivisional reorganisation, change in market structure or conditions, exploring new market propositions, reacting to competitor activity, major regulatory change, international expansion, merger/acquisition organisation design, channel strategy.A new operating model and change program has been designed that has commitment from all key stakeholders.  The model has been rigorously tested to ensure it will deliver its objectives.  The program has been tested to ensure it is deliverable.
TransformationMajor computer package implementation, customer service program, execution of merger, shared services, business process re-engineering, business process outsourcing.Closely choreographed set of activities by multiple parties potentially inside and outside the organisation.  Risk, issues, deviations and exceptions identified early and controlled.  All aspects of change remain aligned.
Business as usual changeBusiness process optimisation (e.g., handheld device store scan routes, call centre computer telephony integration), management information, data quality improvement, introduction of new communication approaches.Close coordination of activities within the project.  Full understanding of impacts and dependencies on other projects and vice versa. Coordinated scopes, deliverables, dependencies and timelines among projects
Technical changeOperating system, hardware, storage, network, software, telephony version upgrades and patches, re-platforming,Full understanding of the business impact of failure or poor performance, rollback plans, communication of the benefits and risk to the business, agreed scheduling and acceptance of the risk with the business.

These examples are again based on real situations within real organisations, and the view of success is what was used by those organisations. The examples start to indicate the micro-level controls required to deliver change successfully.

The fourth rule of alignment is understand what “good” looks like.

Strategies for delivering alignment

In my examples, I have emphasised alignment of delivery rather than alignment of objectives.  My experience is that many large organisations concentrate on getting the goals right and getting “buy-in”.  The follow-through is often weak or missing.  Agreeing to conceptual corporate goals is easy, developing delivery plans is harder, and maintaining those plans and delivering alignment is more difficult still.

We need an end-to-end change delivery process that ensures alignment of goals, investment, plans, solutions and delivery.  So what is the process that we need to go through?

process

The strategies to be adopted are:

sd

The first key question that we need to answer is – Where do we want to go?

Once we know this, we need to do some due diligence. We need to be able to model various operating model scenarios against business objectives.  We need to bring these models to life in a way that enables key stakeholders to visualize operations, run scenarios and consider intangible dynamics such as customer satisfaction and brand awareness as well as the hard numbers.  We also need to understand the numbers, our prospects of success and our capability to deliver.  We need high-level operational models to validate the assumptions in the spreadsheets.

If IT have the correct profile within the business to be invited to the strategic table, then they have a role.  How will IT support the proposition, the capabilities, and the internal and external organisation models?  If IT are not at the table, then the probability of a failure of alignment is magnified.

pp

Once we have a direction, we need to understand our destination, determine the route, agree the investment, plan the actions we need to take to get there and shape a program to deliver them.  This is simply a standard approach to program planning.  But I am describing it here because experience tells me that often this stage is done extremely poorly.

What does the future look like?  To plan a large-scale program, we need to understand what we are building.  To motivate people to change, they need to understand their future and the part they play in it.  We need to create an initial “business roadmap” which describes the key changes to processes, organisation and IT systems over time.  This is a core enterprise architecture activity which is a key driver for the structure of the change program.  It provides a sound basis for understanding risks, issues and dependencies, and it provides a baseline for managing change.  It ensures that all change activities have plans that are in alignment.

What do we need to do to get there?   Each stage of the roadmap dictates a coordinated set of changes to processes, organisation, locations, and IT systems.  The projects that need to be delivered, the major milestones for aligning projects, the key resources, the stress that the organisation will be put under all emerge from the plan.

Is our plan safe?  Major change programs are normally under huge pressure to deliver benefits and to achieve a return on investment.  Very often entirely foreseeable issues arise during the program that threaten the business case.  The enterprise architecture roadmap provides a good basis for understanding these threats, each element of the roadmap can be perturbed in such a way to test the effect on the overall plan – e.g. what if we can’t hire the right skills, what if a business partner pulls out, what if the technology doesn’t work, what if the new building is delivered late, what if key people leave.

Once we have a secure plan, we can ensure we have the skills, funds and time to deliver.  Unfortunately, too many change programs are launched with too little thought, they fail to deliver as much as they could and they fail the people involved.

pd

Delivery is all!  We must turn our plans into positive operational business results.

A secure plan has to be executed; it also has to be changed to take account of changed needs and unforeseen reality.  A business change program requires complex choreography of many moving parts – suppliers, buyers, resellers, partners, customers, employees, sales, marketing, customer service, logistics, training, investment, processes, organisation structures, and IT systems.  All of these must be aligned.

It is difficult enough to ensure that all areas of a business operate in alignment when things are relatively stable.  When we are trying to change the business, alignment becomes very much harder.  The solution is an old one – it is a Program Management Office, a PMO.  But not a normal PMO, an enriched PMO.

An enriched PMO manages delivery alignment by managing the delivery of the “business roadmap”.  To do this it needs to be enriched by business and IT people who ensure that the roadmap is delivered at the detail level. The roadmap changes when it needs to change. A single vision of the future and a single plan to deliver it is assured.  The enriched PMO works at the detailed operational level; it manages the devil in the detail.

bau

Transition of a change into successful business operations starts at the beginning of the change program.  At the start of the process, we were talking about bringing possible futures to life through models; we must continue to bring the future to life to test the future and gain acceptance of the future.  Acceptance is a process that takes time; there are techniques that bring the future architecture to life – conference room pilots, prototyping, model offices, simulations, etc.  These are typically used to explore the solution and improve it.  But they are equally valuable in helping people understand what the solution will look like when the roadmap is delivered.

The fifth rule of alignment is have a change management process that includes and integrates program management and enterprise architecture.

Information requirements

In order to deliver an aligned business change, we need to be taking several perspectives on information.  The pervasive IT-centric view of enterprise architecture typically has three core IT related views (applications, information and technology architectures) and a single business architecture view.

From an alignment perspective, this skew towards IT is not helpful.  The perspectives that we have looked at so far in order to drive alignment and the modeling capability required to achieve alignment are:

PerspectiveModels
Strategic Planning
  • Balanced scorecards
  • Strategy Maps
  • Product / proposition models
  • Capabilities models
  • Organisational models
  • Business environment interaction models
  • Business unit interaction models
  • Risk models
Business Change
  • Process models
  • Procedure manuals
  • Organisation models
  • Training courses
  • Locations
  • Transport schedules
  • Product configurations and parameters
  • Product documentation and literature
  • Partner, supplier and customer links
  • Customer service scripts, FAQs

And lots more…

Business as Usual
  • Process models
  • Procedure manuals
  • Organisation models
  • Training courses
  • Locations
  • Transport schedules
  • Product configurations and parameters
  • Product documentation and literature
  • Partner, supplier and customer links
  • Customer service scripts, FAQs

And lots more…

IT
  • Process models
  • Applications models
  • Information models
  • Infrastructure models

There are a several key points to note.  The point of commonality is business process; the critical point of alignment is around business process models.  The business change and business as usual lists are the same.  They are also the longest and they span the whole business, they are an expression of the detailed implementation of business process.

The sixth rule of alignment is develop a single shared business focused information base that shows where the business is, where it is going, and how it will get there.

Working structures

Now we have thought about a process and the information that we need to operate the process, we need to design an organisation to execute it:

om

The best people to manage change in a particular area are people who know that area.  However, they need coordination, process, discipline and support.  This is the role of the Solution Authority.

The Solution Authority, as well as providing ensuring rigor through formal structure and process, should provide support and guidance.  The traditional British “bobby”, perhaps now largely historical, is a good model for any sort of governance organization.  Out there, friendly and helpful but also carrying a short baton and handcuffs.  In line with the current propensity to adopt a services approach, this might be termed “Business Architecture as a Service” (BAAAS).

The seventh rule of alignment is build a change management organisation that utilises the skills and capabilities of people across the organisation at all levels, and support to ensure rigor.

Conclusion

This discussion is intended as a starting point for developing a comprehensive change management function that can control large-scale change and deliver an aligned organization.  It is critical that alignment not be seen as an IT issue, because that will skew governance and miss the bigger picture of aligning the whole business.

Biography

Alan Inglis is a seasoned CTO and Enterprise Architect with over 10 years’ senior management experience.  His  career has been characterised by roles operating on the boundary between the business and IT in business strategy, IT strategy, enterprise architecture, and business transformations.  He has headed the architecture functions at 4 London Stock Exchange listed organisations.  He has advisory consultancy experience in the retail, insurance, utilities and telecommunications sectors.

Alan is a delivery oriented strategist who has developed business focused and practical IT strategies for a variety of major companies. He is a change manager who has led large complex business change programs, including ERP implementations, creating shared services customer services functions and outsourcing / offshoring.

Alan has developed productive commercial relationships with top industry suppliers enhancing value and quality of service through joint action to improve processes and exchange business information achieving cost reductions of up to 50% on multi-million dollar contracts.

As a passionate and committed leader, Alan has driven improvements in development and operations.  He is an enthusiast for the growth of others who has developed and led high performance teams that have a passion for their work and have fun doing it. He provides mentoring on both a formal and informal basis.

Alan is recognised as an industry expert in IT effectiveness (Effective IT Judge & Conference Expert Witness – 2007) and a thought leader in enterprise architecture.  His blog, Chief Architect (www.chiefarchitect.com), is listed in the Datamation Top 200 Tech Blogs

Alan has a broad technical background in development, support and infrastructure roles in IBM Mainframe, Windows, UNIX and AS/400 environments. He is a Chartered Member of the British Computer Society, MBCS CITP.

Clever child …

The child pointed and said “she’s a n****r”.

The child was about 3 years old sitting in a shopping trolley pushed by her mother.

The mother shushed the child harshly.

The woman that the child pointed at turned around and looked at the child.

She smiled and spoke to her kindly and with love in her eyes

“You are a clever child. I was born in Africa, in a country called Ghana. I have brown skin like many people who are born there. Ghana is a long way from here. The sun shines a lot. We wear colourful clothes with reds and greens and yellows. The sea is near where I grew up, my brothers went fishing in small boats and caught huge fish which were delicious to eat. I live here now and I am happy here because I can meet lovely children like you.”

She turned around, pushed her trolley to the counter, paid and disappeared.

Gravitas – my mother …

I failed the job interview. The recruiter told me I lacked the gravitas required to do the job.

A blank confused look came to me. What do I do with that? Where can I get gravitas? What is gravitas? I was told I will know it when I see it.

So I looked it up:

In the British education system, gravitas was seen as one of the pillars of the moral formation of the English gentleman during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It is partly derived from the notion of aristocratic pedigree, indicating polish, grace in manner as well as dignity in outward appearance.

Wikipedia

There are other definitions:

seriousness and importance of mannercausing feelings of respect and trust in others

Cambridge Dictionary

I particularly like:

A hidden, invisible but extremely palpable, perceptible Dark Jedi Power

Urban Dictionary

I took an intense course over several weeks entitled “Gravitas” where I examined my motivations, I examined what it is to be me. It taught me a huge amount and helped me be myself at work. It also helped me leave my job when I found that being myself and working with that company with those people incentivised to act in those ways were incompatible. But I still couldn’t define gravitas in a meaningful way.

It took my mother to teach me!

I used to imagine gravitas embodied in a middle aged white man with a paunch dressed in a suit smoking a large cigar. His shirt would be starched, the suit would have chalk stripes, the shoes shiny. His face would be slightly red, his nose a bit swollen, may be he enjoys a glass or two of port. But he would command the room, his voice would boom and everyone would say “yes sir”. I remember this guy walking around my school when I was about 14.

A much better image of gravitas came to me when I saw my mother’s way with people.

Suppose you saw a group of young people, late teens and early twenties outside your house apparently eyeing up the premises opposite, running in and out quickly, possibly looking to break in or steal a vehicle. What would you do?

Would you call the police? Would you call the owner? Would you confront them and warn them off? Would you be afraid? Would you be aggressive?

My mother was 5 feet 4 inches (1.62 metres) tall, in her 70s, slightly built, wearing a head scarf. She went out and spoke to them as the grandma everyone would want. She had a chat like she was chatting to her own grandchildren. She didn’t lecture them. She was calm. She soothed them. She respected them and they respected her. She was interested in them. She charmed them and made them feel that they should be respectful. I suspect they went away feeling they had been bewitched. They had changed their actions without knowing why and without being able to control themselves. She worked her special magic.

That is gravitas.

Would you behave like this?

I enter the restaurant, the server takes me to a table and offers me the menus. I refuse. I say that I know what I want and give my order:

“To drink I would like Between 1.5 and 2 cups of sugar, 1 packet of yeast, half a gallon of grape juice”

I pause briefly while the order is entered into the iPad. Then I place my food order:

“2kg Maris Piper potatoes, 1 garlic bulb, 100ml rapeseed or sunflower oil (the chef can choose), 8-10 fresh bay leaves, ½ tsp lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp caramelised onion chutney, 4 parsnips, 4 carrots, 200g sprouts, 2 small red onions, 12 cocktail sausages, bacon, 2 bay leaves, 4 rosemary sprigs, 2 red onions, 4 large eggs, 140g plain flour, 200ml milk, ½ small bunch of sage, sunflower oil, 1 small red cabbage, 2 red onions, 1 dried red chilli, 2 juniper berries, 2 allspice berries, 200ml red wine vinegar, 75g demerara sugar, 100g walnut, 1 small pack dill, 3 Granny Smith apples, 140g crustless sliced white bread, 85g butter, 1 onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 600ml milk, pinch of ground cloves, pinch of ground nutmeg, 100ml double cream, 60g light soft brown sugar, 250g pack fresh cranberries, 100ml sloe gin, 4 juniper berries, neck and giblets from your turkey, 4 chicken wings, 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 garlic bulb, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp clear honey, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp tomato purée, 50g plain flour, small handful dried mushrooms, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or Sherry vinegar, 150ml port, Sherry or red wine, 1.2l chicken stock, 3 bay leaves, small bunch thyme, 4½ -6kg/10-13lb turkey, 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 50g butter, 300ml dry cider, 2 onions, 25g butter, 1 small Bramley apple, 2 x 400g packs meaty Cumberland sausages, a handful sage and 140g granary breadcrumbs”

The server asks me if there will be others joining me for the meal. I reply indignantly that there will not and how dare he question my order, I will take my business elsewhere if I am questioned again.

The server thanks me for my order and as he leaves I say:

“And once I have that you will have the pleasure of my company for 90 minutes and I will grudgingly pay the bill, if you are very lucky I will give you a measly tip.”

My drink arrives, I gulp it down and leave the restaurant without a word, without paying and without my food.


Does your organisation treat prospective employees and suppliers like this?


The order is for red wine and roast turkey with all the trimmings, it would feed a few people! And the picture is of something else!

A Tale of Three Managers

Helmut

Helmut is a German technologist. He lives in Frankfurt. He moved there to develop his career as a technology leader. He is extremely successful. He is a widely recognised thinker, speaker and writer on the industrial use of new technologies.

Helmut gets his kicks when he is teaching, when he is waving his arms about, speaking passionately, drawing frenzied pictures to explain a complex concept. He is thrilled when he creates. He is excited when he wakes others up to new ideas. He loves to create excitement.

Helmut grew up in the black forest. He loves the mountains, the fresh air, and the lakes. He spend his spare time walking, skiing, and sailing. Getting back to nature allows him recuperate from the intensity of the corporate world. It allows his mind to recover. Towards the end of a weekend or more extended break you will find Helmut frantically scribbling down ideas in a mixture of words and pictures.

Jamie

Jamie’s accent is immediately recognisable to the non-Scot. It is Scottish. It has a slightly musical quality that holds the listeners’ attention. But to anyone brought up in Scotland, it is mystifying. There are elements of Glasgow, of Edinburgh, of the Highlands and some unplaceable oddities. Jamie is Scottish, posh Scots. He went to a very good school in England. He tries to hide his background by adopting a “Scottish” accent based on characters from the TV.

Jamie inherited a castle, a large estate which he has farmed for him and a collection of very valuable paintings. He has shipped the paintings to America where he now lives. No one in the USA spots the fake accent. Some people think it quaint and like to listen to him no matter what is actually said.

Jamie has two passions. His pictures and gambling. He just about balances his finances. The farm income and his job give him enough to live comfortably and to cover his losses. Big losses mean selling a picture. Big wins mean buying it back.

Jamie is intelligent. He is a theorist. A conceptual thinker. But when he talks he doesn’t care if he communicates. It is all about the voice. He loves to hear it. It is as though through oratory, in that perculiar accent, Jamie enters another universe where he is at the centre.

Zach

If there is a caricature of an American that will irritate the British then Zach is it. Film star looks, square jaw, bull neck, blue eyes, tall, loud, confident, talks and doesn’t listen. There is the goal, let’s go for it now, we will push through obstacles when we hit them.

Zach was always on the up. Could have played pro football but for injury. Glittering military career. Worked at the top consultancies. Lived in the most glamorous locations. He knew all the stars and even allowed himself to be an extra in a couple of movies. And then he joined us!

What is the opposite of a servant leader? What is the opposite of humble? Zach is! Who knows best? Who doesn’t need advice? That’s Zach! Zach knew us better than we knew ourselves and he knew what was best for us.

Me

I worked for Helmut first. Helmut was inspirational, I would have followed him into any venture that he tried. And I did try to. But Helmut knew me, what I was good at and what I wasn’t so good at. So when he got frustrated with corporate life, he moved on and I stayed put.

Then Jamie came along. This was a struggle that I eventually won. The guy tried to micro manage me. Plus he was a bully. After a bitter six month battle, he was fired. No one should go through the stress of being bullied. Some forms of bullying are illegal, why not all?

Zach was a whirlwind! He was gone before most people noticed he had joined us. The organisation regurgitated him like a pill it could not swallow.

Which brings us to Prem!

PREM

Prem was insecure. He came from an Indian family with a long and aristocratic history. He could bask in glory of his ancestors, but he was not adding to the story. He went to a second rate private school, his elder brothers went to more prestigious schools. He joined the navy because that was what expected of him. As an officer, he was never given respect by other officers or by those he commanded. When he left the navy, his service record was OK, but those he served with didn’t keep in touch. Prem left India and went to live in the USA. He joined a middle sized retailer with the help of an uncle. His career outside the navy was following a familiar path somewhere between success and failure.

Prem was headhunted, much to the surprise of his colleagues. He was offered a huge step up to create a new team. He jumped at it! It was finally a chance to make his mark, to be someone, to show the doubters, to prove himself. He would no longer be looked down on. He would no longer be mediocre.

But Prem had a flaw. He liked people around him who agreed with him, he wanted to be the cleverest person in the room, those who didn’t fit were quietly pushed out.

Me

Prem would have been the fourth manager in the tale of three managers. However, I had seen his style, I knew what was in store for me. I just wanted to do a good job for my customers and help my team become the best they could be. I was tired of the political battles. I was tired of the organisation protecting bullies at the expense of talent.

It was time to move on. Time for a sabbatical. Time to recover. Time to open my eyes to the outside world. Time to laugh. Time to get my creativity back.

Slow!

Nish always takes it slow! He may be ten steps ahead of his audience but he is very careful to nurture their understanding as he tells his story. I had the honour to be present as he introduced some new ways of working to his colleagues.

We knew the answer. We had a plan. My natural approach would be to tell the world the plan and bask in the glory of my great insights and creativity. However, after too many failures to convince others of how to do things better, I have learned that others are better at getting ideas accepted than I am.

I have watched others and tried to learn. Where I can, I have adopted their approaches. I wrote previously about the puppet master. He had great techniques for getting things done. Then there is Don, he is Australian and the slight accent seems to charm people. But his greatest skill, in my eyes, is taking my injudicious statement, rewording it and making it acceptable to a potentially hostile audience. I did adopt, in my own clumsy way, a technique from a CIO that I used to work for. It was to use the phrase “I want to build on that” and then say what ever I wanted to say very loosely attaching it to the previous statement. I have got away with some quite outrageous leaps doing this.

Back to Nish. He would identify all the people who might have an interest and work out a message that they would accept. He would then very carefully work out the steps in getting that message over. He would then pace his communications to take just one step at a time. He would meet each group of people face to face or by phone and slowly and carefully take them through one concept, one change, one idea at a time.

I would sit and try to fade into the background. I wanted to speak, I wanted to accelerate the conversation. But I knew better. My natural confrontational approach does open up the discussion but sometimes it closes minds. So I continue to sit there, only speaking when asked to, partly frustrated and partly bored.

Nish would achieve his communication goal and close the meeting, no extended discussion. We would then review what had happened. Did I notice the body language, did I notice the voice tone, were any strange phrases used, did I notice any changes in posture? Nish wanted to understand if he had indeed communicated what he had intended. We would assess and revise our communication plan after this review. We would also assess and revise the changes that we planned. Nish emphasised that we should be learning from our communication not telling.

After our audience had time to adsorb the message but before they forgot it, we would take the next step in the communication plan. After some weeks or months, Nish would have convinced all the stakeholders that there is a useful change to be made and we would be given the go ahead to implement the changes. These changes were not ours any more. They had evolved through the conversations and now belonged to the group.

Why write?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that “The Art of War” said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn’t want originality. A novel … No ideas.

I posted a couple of blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my contribution to the management arts would not be a great insight but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that management consultants often spout. They don’t just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of these notions. They don’t laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor’s nudity. I point out the emperor’s hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don’t have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don’t have to wrap an old failed idea in new terminology and pretend that it’s innovation. You don’t have to acquiesce. You don’t have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price …

You may lose your job. You may not get promoted. You may be unpopular. You may find it stressful when senior management threaten you. But you will have integrity.

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities — my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.

Trapped!

I couldn’t get my trapped car out of the station car park following an explosion on a construction site that closed the city center. As far as I know no-one was hurt, it caused a bit of local excitement, a few seconds on national TV, and inconvenience for people separated from cars, house keys, etc.

A shopping mall and bus station has been knocked down to be replaced by a shopping mall and a bus station. I’m not sure what we have achieved. It did get me thinking about the grand construction schemes that seem very often to be short term ego and career boosts for politicians. Otherwise they are grotesque wastes of money which leave us all with a legacy of financial, social and ecological debt.

What do I have in mind? Most obviously, the collection of Olympic villages across the world. I would add the Channel Tunnel, the Millau bridge in France and, if I could be bothered to do the research, a series of other mega-schemes. You can do your own research to get a good strong list!

These monstrosities seem to me to be pointless adventures where politicians posture and strut like peacocks to show how virile they are. It seems very 18th century in outlook, it seems as though the south east Asian Tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the destruction of New Orleans and other events haven’t quite convinced us that we are not in control.

In London, we built the Olympic complex at huge expense. We reclaimed some spoilt land that no-one could otherwise afford to develop. Why? Because it’s London. Actually, I think London would benefit more from a “green lung”. I also think almost anywhere in the country needed investment more than London. However, there are more votes in and around London. And that battle is lost.

The next one is CrossRail — building a mainline railway underneath London to connect the east and west. Then we have HS2 and CrossRail 2. The benefits will be shorter travel times and easier commuting. I was initially in favor because I suffer from long travel times and difficult commutes using multiple trains. But thinking about it, these are really disbenefits. We are investing more money into a massively overcrowded region. We are encouraging more jobs into the region which requires either more housing or more commuting. The pressure on land drives up prices which drives up salaries which drives up inflation which means we have to think of ever more expensive ideas to increase the efficiency of the infrastructure which takes us into a vicious circle.

If we need to improve the travel infrastructure, then what about improving travel to neglected regions away from London? How about building communities? How about eliminating much of the need to travel? This won’t happen because its not a grand scheme, it requires thought and votes aren’t there.

We lack true leaders who can see the real needs and are prepared to tackle them. We lack real leaders who do what is right out of conviction and who trust the people to follow them because they are right. But it is our own fault, we value style over substance. We like our politicians to be celebrities instead of effective stewards of our resources and freedom.

Do I have a solution? No! To change the race, you have to join the race, to join race is to be corrupted by the race. We are in a trap of our own making !

Toxic employees – look at yourself first

I recently read an article that had been posted in LinkedIn from Inc. This particular article highlights 8 rules for spotting a toxic employee.

I am generally uncomfortable with frameworks like this. They give the lazy manager a way out of managing effectively. They make it easy to fire people when the focus should be on developing people.

Before any manager starts to use such rules they should look at themselves and their management colleagues to assess whether they have created the climate where “toxic employees” thrive. Are you, as a manager, taking responsibility for the working environment or are you finding scape-goats?

The rules in the article are useful for identifying problems with your teams but you should look both ways before you decide what the cause of the problems is.

Rule 1 is about gossip – do you have an open and transparent environment where there is no need to gossip? Do you have a blame culture or are mistakes welcomed and seen as opportunities for the team to learn?

Rule 2 discusses the meeting after the meeting – again do you have an open and transparent environment where your decisions can be challenged? Are you able to admit to your team that you make mistakes? Are you able to take advice from your team members? Do you allow open discussion of key issues? Do you let your team know in good time of the critical issues that are coming up so they can help you? Are you humble?

Rule 3 covers not working as a team member – do you get your hands dirty and help the team out? Do you have an appraisal system that encourages individuals to compete with each other? Do you micro-manage? Do you allow teams to organise their work among themselves?

Rule 4 relates to coasting – are you really appreciative in a tangible way? Does your organisation provide any real benefits to doing a good job over just getting by? Have you set stretch goals? Do you penalise staff for missing stretch goals even when they have over-achieved? Do you recognise the value of your employees? Is it clear and transparent why some staff are rewarded more than others?

Rule 5 talks about experience – are you identifying useful experience in your team? Are you giving experienced staff objectives and tasks to pass on their experience? Are you showing that you value learning? Do you ask your experienced staff for help?

Rule 6 focuses on peer pressure – have you built a set of objectives for your team where their interests are aligned with those of the organisations? Do they win when the organisation wins? Does their hard work result in benefits for the staff?

Rule 7 adds grabbing credit – do you give credit where it’s due? Have you created an environment where staff are competing with each other? Which do you praise more, team work or individual performance? Do you encourage the quieter team members to contribute? Do you know the team well enough to understand who is really doing the work?

Rule 8 finishes the article with blaming others – is there a blame culture? Do you praise and reward taking responsibility?

Management sets the culture of an organisation. Good managers recognise this and work hard to put in place practices that support team work. Good managers are followed by their teams. If the team is following a “toxic” employee then the management need to take a good hard look at the working environment that they have created.