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Getting back to basics

Jul 17th

There’s no room for flabby businesses today, even those that weathered the storm are cutting back on essentials. This issue also includes: the bitter pill of spending cuts; how to successfully move up in the world; and ensuring your legacy.

Editor’s view

Getting back to basics

There’s no room for flabby businesses today, even those that weathered the storm are cutting back on essentials. This month’s editor, Andrew Jackson, looks at what you can do to improve your bottom line.

Everyone, it seems, is going through hard times. Even those who are doing well are doing so by focusing back on the essentials. The public sector is engaged in much soul searching and looking for what will potentially be very deep cuts and working through the political consequences of that (what will it really be like if we have 20% fewer police on our streets?). And of course, they start by cutting back on the flowers in foyers and cups of coffee at meetings.

But for any organisation, public or private, and professional service firms like ours, it’s actually a good time to look at the fundamentals of what we all do and what we are about. In our consulting business, we live or die by the value we add to our clients and on the relationships we enjoy with them (the word enjoy being meant genuinely). So we have taken a hard look to make sure that we continue to offer the things that are relevant (which in these times is as much about tackling the sticky business issues and making an impact on bottom lines as it is about pure capability building) and changed our business model to one that is right for the new environment. It’s all about getting back to the basics and being more flexible. It is amazing what you really can strip away if you abandon any notion of sacred cows.

There are lessons that small business has for big business (where people tend to be further from the bottom line). Can everyone in a big organisation see how they contribute to something real (in the case of the public sector to delivering something for the public; in the case of the private sector to producing a good or service that people are prepared to pay for)? What is the most efficient way of collaborating with colleagues and external partners and working together to do that? And for leaders running these organisations, do they create the frameworks which allow that to happen? Or are people still bound in a fug of bureaucracy and complexity, of internal politics and obscurity? This is the time to de-clutter, to ask the hard questions, to strip back to the basics and be really clear about value. The world of work (and perhaps the world as a whole) will be a better place for that.

In the news

The bitter pill of spending cuts

All eyes will be on the coalition government as they release details of their Comprehensive Spending Review later this month. But is it possible to make effective cuts that the public can swallow without a political backlash?

Behind the shrouds that cover Whitehall, there is strenuous activity going on called a Comprehensive Spending Review. This is the Coalition Government’s way to show how some £80billion will be taken out of public expenditure over the next four years. Watch for the signals of that activity… was that the Chancellor rapping the Work and Pensions Secretary over the knuckles for suggesting that benefits reform (so desperately needed) might require some upfront investment and might have a rather longer pay back period? We will hear the results later this month

The interesting thing is that the Coalition Government has created a climate which makes most of us recognise that these cuts are inevitable and on the way, the painful medicine we have to take to restore us to longer term health. The question is how can the cuts be delivered in individual spending areas in any way which is palatable politically. The soft underbelly is always capital projects. Who will notice if ambitious road building schemes get put back, or new hospitals or schools not built? Actually, locally quite a lot of people will notice.

And what happens to some of the front line services that have not been exempted, e.g. the police? The watchwords are innovation and efficiency. And certainly the police budgets could be squeezed through more innovative methods of policing and greater efficiency. But that won’t add up to 20-25% of savings. It’s areas like this that would really benefit from a root and branch examination of what we expect of the services in question (in fairness, as the police have been calling for). The same of the defence review.

Tip of the month

How to successfully move up in the world

You’re about to take a step up into a new role, but what do your people expect of their new boss? what leadership style do you need to bring to the job? Find out how you can get ahead of the game.

Michael Watkins ’90 Day Plan’ book is the key text for people moving up a level to new jobs. Admittedly it is rather US focused and aimed at the outsider stepping into a big corporation CEO role. It has its obligatory ten point plan, including some obvious things (use the first 90 days to listen and to learn, to build your agenda, to secure relationships etc) and some less obvious points (recognise this time as a time of personal learning and development, be conscious about the requirements of the new job and how they differ from what has made you successful in previous jobs).

My small contribution to this debate is something I call an ‘expectations exercise’. With several clients now stepping into new big jobs, I have talked confidentially to 10-12 people in (and near to) their organisations to see what they expect of the new boss – what preconceptions there are about their appointment, what the substantive business/organisational agenda is, and what kind of leadership style they need to bring to the job? This has always given an incredibly rich seam of data and gives the new leader a leg up as they step into the new job. It’s no substitute for the new leaders doing their own talking, but the interviewees welcome the opportunity to air their hopes and fears openly. And it does gives the leaders an early sense of what they are stepping into, a better ability to calibrate their early messages, and at least a hypothesis about the business agenda they face.

Your questions answered

I’m leaving this job in 3 month’s time, how do you think I should ensure my legacy?

You should probably have asked that question on the day you joined the job, or at least 9 months ago! But here are some questions you should be asking yourself now:

  • Be really clear about what it is you have achieved in this job. How have you moved the business on? What can you point to specifically that you have driven forward?
  • Are those things sustainable? What can you do to reinforce them now as you leave The most important thing you can do is to hand over to a successor carefully and properly, so your successor is able to get up to speed, understand what has happened and why things have happened that way and how best they can build on the legacy they are being left
  • The truth is the most you can hope of your legacy is that it is a foundation upon which your successor will build. Leadership is a generative business over different generations of leaders. The worst is that your successor wants to start again and build foundations from new.

This article is filed under: business capability, leadership, organisation, organisation design, transformational leadership, workforce management

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