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Posts Tagged ‘management’

on pandemics


Over the thirty or so years that I had some senior management responsibility I have sat through many hours of crisis management, business continuity and disaster recovery sessions looking at strategy and tactics for such events. I have also been involved in many dry runs to test the plans that same from these sessions and a good few incidents where such planning and practice helped, even if the planning was actually flawed.

One topic that came late to these discussions was that of a pandemic. I think that it was towards the end of the nineties that it was first brought up, but we were, at that time, dealing with all sorts of nonsense about what the millennium would bring and that, being imminent, was very much the priority even if we were wasting our time.

The risk of a pandemic took hold as were saw things like bird ‘flu and ebola rampage around the globe, but there was little impact here in the UK and I don’t think that any of us took such threats too seriously. They always seemed a bit science fiction and I don’t think the way that these potential events were presented helped. After all wee were hard bitten operational people who dealt with real life issues; strikes, power cuts, road accidents, weather and such. Yes, there were times when some form of sickness might sweep through the workforce, but such events were rare and when they did happen they were very localised.

It was about ten years ago when I had the last discussion on risk management plans and was, at that time, acting in a consultancy role rather than being the person whom would be left holding the can. By then we had seen a few more viral infections spread around the world and almost all office environments had become open plan on every floor of a building which increased the opportunity to spread infections around a building. The one thing that I remember from that time is the potential scale of a pandemic was beyond everyone’s imagination; it was just too hard to grasp a scenario such as the one that the world has gone through over the last eighteen months.

Whilst appropriate plans were drawn up for mass home working , disruptions to supplies and trade there was little enthusiasm for any of it. How wrong we were and yet we have, largely, come though it fairly well. Business has changed and there have been casualties. We have not seen the last of the latter, but there has been a demonstration of just how adaptable businesses are in the face of a challenge.

I do not advocate ignoring risk nor failing to plan and train for dealing with potential risks, but throughout my career I saw various crises arise that did not fit the planning. The old military adage of no strategy surviving past first contact with the enemy is very true. Business is often derided as is the capitalist system, but it works and any business that is flexible and adaptable will rise to meet significant change in its environment. What planning for a crisis does is it get managers thinking about how they will react and considering where to find resources and how to deploy them. When a challenge arises, whilst it may not resemble anything that has been planned for, the thinking processes are in place and they work.

Thinking time is never wasted. Perhaps the current pandemic might have given us time to ponder on that.

on the ABC principle


I’ve joined a new Facebook group recently and have been sharing memories and catching up with people from a 30 year career. A lot of things have come flooding back including the ABC principle, although that was something that I had learned even earlier.

I’ll take you back to around 1975 and the East End of London. Much of the docklands area was abandoned and near derelict, but it made good space for some transport operators to use and these were amongst my customers as I plied my trade selling commercial vehicle parts and hydraulic fittings. I worked for a franchise operation and was asked to spend a couple of weeks with someone from the parent operation who would advise on credit control and debt management, not that I had much trouble in that direction as most of my customers paid cash and my only concern was to be sure that they were not dud notes I was accepting.

My new partner was ex Royal Navy and ex Kent Police and he looked it. I am not sure how much value our two weeks together were, but I hope that he, being new to this job, got an insight into what really went on at the sharp end rather than what those in the ivory tower thought. For my part I got little from it as his appearance, and the fact that we were running around in his dark blue Morris Marina rather than my usual van, meant that a lot of my customers that that we were the Old Bill when we drove into their yards and my orders plummeted. However, on the last day he gave me a nugget; the ABC principle.

I had taken him the he Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, Dan Farsons’ old pub, for lunch and he gave me that bit of advice which he claimed came from his days in CID. ABC: Accept nothing, Believe no-one, Challenge everything.

To me at first it sounded very cynical and, to a large degree, counter-productive for a salesman who was trying to build trust with customers, but as he explained it a degree of sense emerged.

Accept nothing, at least at face value. That isn’t the same as rejecting everything because it is all useful, but don’t trust anything until you can verify it.

Believe no-one. It is not because they are lying, rather that even if they believe what they are saying is true, it may not be. They may also be only telling you what they think that you want to know. If you ask ten eye witnesses what they saw you will get ten different answers, so listen, question, and file it all away until, as with the first point, you can verify it.

Challenge everything. Look at it from every angle that you can think af and then think of some news angles. Test every theory and, you guessed it, verify it.

On that day I took the advice and did not believe it. It all sounded like it had come from an episode of The Sweeney, but I considered it and, in time, tried it. I found that it worked for me. I accept that it is a little extreme, but if you apply the ABC principle with a little common sense it works and will serve you well. For my own part I have applied it very strongly when considering disciplinary matters and accidents at work through to a more casual application pretty much every day when considering something that needs doing. It has kept me out of trouble more often than I can remember.

So don’t take my word here, but do challenge the thinking if you do nothing else. Think about it, work on it and see what you can do with it. You might find that it works for you too.

on projects and slippage


I started a series of projects on home and garden back in January and, when lockdown hit us, these became something of a primary focus for me. I said at that point that I would hit my overall objectives in terms of time and money, but, as so often happens in professional life, things have changed.

Taking my personal goals as a microcosm of business workings I have seen a familiar progression in that now, around seventy percent of the ay through my personal programme, the needs have changed and so what I had planned on in therms of certain specific objectives are no longer necessary.

Part of the problem has been in delays from external suppliers; the new shed is still not here and is now four weeks behind schedule and the new greenhouse is unlikely to arrive before next Spring. Both of these issues are primarily due to Covid-19 firstly because demand for garden products shot up during lockdown and then because the production facilities were not working at capacity having had to deal with the impact of lockdown, social distancing and the like. These things happen.

Then there were the things that were uncovered as work progressed; the bae for the new shed required digging out of some significant root systems and even the had to be raised about 10cm. Clearance of waste was affected by Covid-19 restrictions and instead of a daily trip to the tip I could not go for about a month and then was restricted to two trips a month.

If I were to be sitting with an employer discussing how well I had performed in terms of meeting the objectives set nine months ago I would not be doing too well I suspect, but therein lies another story and one that I have visited here before. The bottom line is that the world changes around us and we need to be able to recognise that.

Looking at where I am now against where I was in January the difference is huge and whilst I have not sone some of what I set out to, because of external forces, we are in a much better place than we were at the start of the year. My main aim of having the deck sorted out so that we could enjoy some of the Summer sitting out has gone because Summer is past. That is a shame, but the bulk of the hard work is done and come next Spring it will al be there for us to enjoy.

In business we often become so focussed on getting to an objective that we miss the fact that we do not need to get to that place any more. Time and money are expended on things that have become obsolete or for which the immediate need has passed. Plans should always be flexible because, to quote the old military adage, no plan survives past first contact with the enemy. Your strategy may still be current, but the tactics have to adapt to what is going on around you.

Hang loose and take advantage of what you can do as long as it helps you prgress

on the joys of shopping


I’m going to look at this from the customer perspective. All management should do this anyway, but many seem to ignore it beyond what they see from market research and I will come on to that too in a moment.

Why do we shop? To buy stuff is the obvious, and correct answer, but how many of us go shopping and come back with more than we went for? The Berkshire Belle and I once worked with a chap who was, fortunately, married to a like minded lady. They went shopping with a list and bough only what was win the list. Things around the house had to fail completely before they were replaced; we remember that their cooker was down to one working ring on the hob before they bought a new one.

Our friends were not common though and most folks are like the double B and I in that shopping is about browsing, about buying things on impulse regardless of whether you need them or have an immediate use for them. You see, you like, you buy is how it works and that process involves not just the eyes, but touch. I will walk along a rack of golf shirts, for example, running my fingers across the fabric. I buy more by what feels nice than the colour or brand. Cutlery, glassware and crockery have all been bought by how they feel in the hand rather than anything else (except maybe how they look).

These pleasures are, if sort of allowed, not practical or desirable at the moment so, like many, we are not doing it. There is no fun anyway in visiting a shopping centre or high street and having to queue at almost every shop that you want to visit. Touching products, other than to put them into your basket or cart, is not something that is a good idea and just wandering around looking at things is not encouraged, or acceptable, when others are queuing to get in. Shopping is becoming more about necessity than a source of pleasure.

This is the dilemma for those in the retail trade and many are fighting for survival. The writing has perhaps been on the wall for a while with the impact of internet shopping and the evolving habits of each new generation, but this current plague has brought matters to a head. How they will get through it I don’t know. It seems unlikely that we will return to a world where we can shop without masks, social distancing or fear any time soon so which businesses will survive that long?

Whilst this is a problem for government in that it impacts on the economy in so many ways it is not a problem that is in their gift to solve. Market research is too often flawed and there is a lot of nonsense out there in terms of customers surveys; just sigh up to do a few of these on-line and you will see what I mean. The questions are often nonsensical and there is no way that meaningful answers can be gleaned from it, certainly not in terms of allowing management to make realistic decisions.

What we get over the next twelve months or so is going to come from innovative thinking, from people who have a vision that they can translate into actions that work and that will generate income for their businesses. As always the ones that can take advantage of the changing environment will be the survivors.

I don’t think that we will see the world that we had sic months ago again. What we emerge into will look and feel different. I don’t know that I will like it, but I will have to lump it if that is all I have.

on the fail fast principle


For most of us we have become used to the fail safe way of working. I am old enough to remember a time when air brakes failed off leaving you with the best way of stopping being to find something soft to drive into. We don’t allow that these days.

Failures are things to be avoided and we work hard on our processes to find ways of doing it right first time, every time. If you are failing your KPIs it is career threatening, a thing of shame. No wonder that so many people are afraid of failure.

Yet we all know that we learn more from our failures and something that I adopt is based on a way of thinking that is called fail fast. The principle is to have something monitoring the system that warns of potential failure somewhere and puts things into a safe mode. It is similar to the Limp Mode that you may have found on your car. Some engineers are using it to push for failures, to encourage them to enable their eradication and this type of thinking is used in high pressure areas like Grand Prix motor sport to find and eliminate potential weak spots in any system or component.

Forty years or so ago we were doing something like this with software testing. The classic test was to take historic data and run that through the program to check that it was doing its sums correctly, but we mixed in erroneous inputs to see what happened. We would also overload the software beyond its specified capacities again to see what it would take, or otherwise.

With more manual processes this approach can also be tried and it will tend to show where the flow starts to fail. Critical Path Analysis is a good companion tool here and using the two can show how the CP can change user different circumstances.

These things can start as desktop exercises, but there is no substitute for doing them in real time because the the working environment will often through up things that would otherwise be missed; the story of my old boss and his M1 traffic jam has been told here before, but it was a classic case of the real world making a bugger’s muddle of what looked like a great plan.

The key message here is to always look at what other people in unrelated industries are doing. It is time rarely wasted because everyone has a need to make things happen as efficiently as possible. How they do it and the way that they think about their problems can often through up an idea that you can adopt or adapt. Take time to look around; you never know what you might find.

on other ways of making things happen


I mentioned recently the EFQM model, another tool that, when used well, can serve a useful purpose. For me the great benefit that I got from it was understanding the linkages between ideas and results, the enablers. I have been reading a succession of political biographies and commentaries of late and there are many instances where promises made at the hustings have not been delivered. There are many reasons for this and, in general, it is not because the politician is telling lies. Certainly sometimes they do relying on the fact that we are too gullible to see the truth, but there are three other key barriers.

Read more…

on times when thinking is a bad idea


Sounds daft to propose that there are times when thinking is not too clever, but I firmly believe it to be true. I would not advocate it as a blanket strategy, but there are times when being able to block certain thoughts will pay dividends. Read more…

on implementation


Almost anything that you change can be a project, so from simple things within the office to nationwide rollouts I have seen a lot. Some I have been on the receiving end for, in others I have been part of the roll out team and for some I have been the sponsor. Not all have gone well, so let us have a look at why. Read more…

the lockdown log 3


Whilst the lock down is not having a huge impact on life for the Berkshire Belle and I there is a danger that elements of the basic skill set can get atrophied during any period of disuse so the trick is to find ways of using them in this strange world. Read more…

on motivation for leaders


The ability to motivate is one of those traits that we expect in a leader; keeping the team positive, productive and, for at least short bursts, galvanised should be bread and butter to a good leader as should the ability to keep the team’s collective heads up when things are not going too well. Read more…