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Sustainability; an alternative view


Over the last few years we have seen sustainability appear as a major topic and it has become a word that people like to chuck into conversations and business proposals and to have included in policies. As with most words that get overused it tends to lose its meaning and therefore its power; ironic that, at least in this context, because if you think about what the word really means, I’m saying that it has become unsustainable. Most people today will probably associate sustainability with the environment (another word that has seen its meaning shift through wide usage), but I still like to use it to describe the practice of keeping something going.

I got onto today’s train of thought talking about charity, or more specifically charities and, as these things do, one thought led to another. The first one was around what happens to the benefit; we’re all familiar with the expression “give a man a fish” etc, but how many of these charitable efforts have actually been successful? Or are they just sustaining the problem? Like most businesses, charities have two parts; one that is selling and one that isn’t. In the case of the charity, the selling part, as far as I am describing it here, is the bit bringing in the money: It’s the people that sell the charity to donors. The other part is the one that distributes the benefit.

In the context of the discussion that I was having the issue was just how often charities suffer the same blight as other organisations in that they can grow a large and often unnecessary function in between these two parts. Sight gets lost of what the real objective of the organisation is and the bit in the middle takes on an importance and a life of its own at the expense of its parent. Just as I talked last week about a process becoming a trap if it wasn’t right, many organisations end up with more focus on the process than on doing the job.

In the world of music sustain is about how long you can keep a note going; we talk about sustain with regard, perhaps, to an organ or a guitar and we refer to the time before the note decays. And that use of the word decay is very apt in terms of today’s Musing, for what happens to organisations so often is that a form of decay sets in and spoils the connection between the two halves. The ability of the one to sustain the other begins to rot away.

So my point is that we should be looking to improve the sustainability of our own organisations, be they public, private or third sectors, by removing any areas that will be susceptible to decay or rot and to apply lean principles to sharpen the connection between the two parts. Whether you are selling products, providing services or delivering benefits, whatever your organisation’s reason for existence, the other part of the organisation should be focussed solely on supporting that activity.

Try an internet search for Trireme. You’ll find it is one of those old ships with banks of oars. Forget for a moment what it meant to be chained to one of those oars, but consider how all of those folks could get a ship that size moving at up to 8 knots. That is the power of all rowing in harmony. But if you don’t all pull together you will go nowhere. What we need to see more of is everyone making a sustained effort focused on delivering objectives and results.

Musing on knowledge workers, leaders and managers


I was reading a blog post the other day where someone was trotting out the differences between a manager and a leader and expounding the theory that managers are no longer needed in business as the knowledge workers require leadership not management.

OK, I understand the argument and, to some degree, am happy to support it. For a start I’ve been doing it for more years than I can remember so why would I think otherwise?

My issue with this kind of evangelical stuff is that too often those who are picking up on the message are not getting the full picture, won’t really understand what they need to do about it and it will end up, for them and those that they inflict it on, as another failed initiative; just one more management fad.

Let me be blunt here: Every business needs to have someone in a management role. Sure, it is going to involve a lot of boring stuff; admin type things that the swashbuckling leader, swinging from the chandelier with a knife gripped between their teeth would look on with scorn, but if you don’t have some form of management, then that leader will soon end up as one famous leader did, caught by a river, surrounded by the opposition and getting massacred.

Sir Richard Branson is often held up as a leadership role model, and quite rightly. His group of companies has grown in my lifetime and I have watched with admiration some of the audacious deals that they have pulled off as the man at the top has kept popping up in the headlines in a series of adventures. Not all of the latter have come off of course, but he has entered our hearts as an example of that swashbuckling leadership style I refer to above.

How has he built such a successful brand? It isn’t just about leadership; it’s about being able to blend that entrepreneurial spirit and the visionary leadership with management skills that can sort out the detail of the deals. The devil is in the detail is a very true saying and you need some completer finishers on the team to nail all of that stuff down. Read Sir Richard’s books or any of those written about him, and you’ll see that he works with the right people on all of these deals, buying in expertise when and where he needs it to augment his own people.

If we are talking in hierarchical terms then I would rather see a good leader at the head of a company than a good manager. I think that a good leader will take an organisation to where it needs to go, seeing the opportunities, setting the agenda and the direction and inspiring their people to sign up to the dream. But it will be the managers who ensure that all of the things that need to happen do happen, when and where they need to.

If you follow these thoughts on a regular basis you will be aware that I am passionate about developing leadership. I firmly believe that business leaders will be the ones to take us out of recession, not the politicians. The latter can only recycle money; business can create wealth.

I am even more passionate about people. It is people that make organisations work, and the organisations that treat their people fairly will prevail over those that don’t. Yes, let’s develop the knowledge worker concept, but in doing so let us also recognise that amongst those knowledge workers are the managers. Lose sight of that and you will lose.

Weekend Musings on Procurement – F.C. Business Magazine


Read my article on Procurement in the January issue of  F.C. Business Magazine.

 

press cuttings that feature or quote me


I often get enquiries about various articles, interviews and other press reports that I have written, or articles that have quoted or featured me, so here are the business related ones that I’ve been able to track down:

Jackie Le Poidevin, editor of LexisNexis publication Facilities Management, covered my interactive session on good practice in FM procurement with the Rising FM group in London on June 2nd and will feature that in an article for the August 2011 issue of Facilities Management.

FM World give me a kind mention in their preview of the Public Procurement Show in London, where I will be speaking on FM procurement good practice, see pages 16/17 of the 2nd June 2011 issue.

In the April 14th 2011 edition of Supply Management magazine, the CIPS journal, I helped out in the Adviser Q&A section. (Unfortunately they spelt my name incorrectly).

The March 2011 issue of Truck & Driver magazine features a tongue in cheek article by me on the life of an agency truck driver.

FM World kindly feature the Monday Musings column in the FacilitiesBlog section on their web site and in the fortnightly magazine that goes to BIFM members and other subscribers.

FM World featured the Monday Musings column of 28 June 2010 on its web front page. You’ll find the full bog on this WordPress site, but the FM World link is: http://www.fm-world.co.uk/comment/blog/could-you-recognise-a-customer-if-you-saw-one/

A feature in the 20 May 2010 issue of FM World magazine where I was quoted on the impact of purchasing in the FM sector http://www.fm-world.co.uk/features/feature-articles/fm-and-procurement/

A report in the November 2009 issue of Swindon Business News on my assisting the British Council with providing strategic purchasing training to the Jordanian Government http://swindon-business.net/index.php/2009/10/30/local-firm-to-assist-jordan-government/

A feature in the 1 September 2009 issue of FM World magazine on a Public vs Private Procurement round table debate organised by BDO Stoy Hayward at which I was one of the invited panel. http://www.fm-world.co.uk/login/?ReturnUrl=/features/roundtables/pound-for-pound/

Editorial in the 15 March 2007 issue of FM World magazine where I was quoted on the 2012 Olympic site project http://www.fm-world.co.uk/login/?ReturnUrl=/news/fm-industry-news/articles/olympics-procurement%3a-look-at-t5/

Editorial in the 25 January 2007 issue of FM World magazine where I was quoted http://www.fm-world.co.uk/login/?ReturnUrl=/news/fm-industry-news/articles/fms%2c-purchasers-need-to-cooperate/

A Day in the Life style feature on me in Romec Business magazine from 2003  http://www.romec.com/pdf/business/issue2/RB2-page14-15.pdf

At the time of writing all of these links are functioning, but some may require you to subscribe to the sites to obtain the full text. I’ll update this list as I track down other links.

Thanks to those who have enquired for their interest. I am happy to speak with journalists on business topics, especially in the procurement, facilities management, supply chain and logistics sectors.