Reality, choices and alignment.

It’s all I want in the companies I work for. Yet I see very little of it.  To me, all the management and strategy jargon out there just complicates things.


Reality is important because it frames your worldview. Time and time again I see senior people ignore reality. You want some examples? RIM:” no seismic change” required? Hello, dude you are screwed!! ‘manage decline”, what kind of obscene statement is that? I mean first up, you are basically stating it’s ok to loose, worse that you have some magic trump card that allows you to control market shifts.  This is poison because your staff know its total rubbish and it sets people up for failure. . . . trust me I’ve seen people try to do this for years and I can attest to the fact that any ‘management’ of decline only happens in the minds of strategists and accountant. The rest is luck.


People think they make choices every day, but the reality is they do it without fully considering the true impacts.  Take global warming, its is kind of hard to ignore the fact base that it is happening. At a personal level i don’t think people understand what they do to contribute or change this, they haven’t really had the choices explained to them….

Combustion of one US gallon of gasoline produces about 19.4 pounds (8.8 kg) of carbon dioxide (converts to 2.33 kg/litre), a greenhouse gas.[4][5]

Did you know that? that is a lot of C0!!!. How about wording the choices this way.. “you can keep driving your car and contributing to the pollution of the petri dish we call home, or you can find alternate transport, you choose”

Cigarette smoking – “you can keep smoking cigarettes, but you know that it causes all sorts of bad stuff to happen and if you get sick because of it, there won’t be any government or private health insurance to support you”

Business – man, so many examples ( dilbert lives on this stuff)

“We can’t decide what we are going to do” (which is a form of non-choice),  the impact of this is there is no guiding principles to make good choices about so companies will attempt to deliver everything… which means nothing gets done and everyone is unhappy

“we need to change, become more agile and cost effective”, but we will do this with the existing processes and cost base…. without a plan to address process and cultural overheads, this just won’t happen

“…most often the very skills that propel an organization to succeed in sustaining circumstances systematically bungle the best ideas for disruptive growth. An organization’s capabilities become its disabilities when disruption is afoot.” – Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Solution

“We need to be more innovative”, so you either choose to learn about / invest in innovation, sponsor, support and nurture new projects …or don’t.  One of these approaches has much more chance of success than the other

“you can launch that new thing, but you need to avoid canabalisation”   you just choose to waste your time and money. That new thing ain’t going anywhere. Good companies (like Apple) acknowledge canabalisation, then don’t get stopped by it because its actually just part product lifecyle

Another choice “lets cut costs but culling headcount” but we will do it before / without fixing the underlying systems and processes, all this means is that a smaller number of people are going to end up doing the same amount of work….  With the obvious results in output, quality and staff satisfaction…

Finally a segway into alignment “we want focus, here are five separate targets. “

Alignment .

Getting the company in motion, by ensuring that everyone is working in the same direction…. Sound so simple, but so often it never happens.

Multiple targets – a recipe for disaster… classics include hit your revenue and EBIT targets… or how about maintain share and price? Sound familiar?

What about different parts of the business being aligned? How many of you out there have given operations a cost reduction target while simultaneously giving product or sales an uplift? This causes conflict at best, it also hamstrings your growth. Some managers call this ‘healthy tension”… which is management school bullocks for misalignment

Finally my personal favourite piece of target tripe… manage decline in legacy business (ie maintain the status quo as best are you can) while simultaneously driving radical simplification…. That’s like saying go to war but don’t use guns … what are you supposed to do? Batchslap them into submission?  Have them laugh themselves to death by showing them your impossible targets?

Combine reality, true choice and alignment and you get simplicity and organisational alignment. Trust me (most) people have decent BS meters. They will naturally see if a plan, driver or goal is aligned with what they are targeted with or are doing. To quote Jason Jennings “in great companies everyone knows the strategy, and everyone thinks and acts like an owner”

What if there were some easy answers to lifting New Zealand’s productivity

This was going to be an indignant rant, but after a little research I realised that perhaps I was onto something. What if NZ’s employment law is ONE of the major reasons for our lack of GDP growth? What if we made it easier to dismiss underperforming staff? What if instead of making the HR function less about the process and more about the outcome, we’d be better off as a nation….

Now before I get burnt at the stake, let me explain and support my statement with some real life examples. I should also say that as an employee i have experienced the good and bad of employment law and HR policy … (aka i’ve been ripped off).

But I still think my thoughts below have some potential First up let me describe first hand some examples we have to (by law) go through to dismiss someone.

Item one. It should be noted that in NZ it is just as important to follow the exacting process. That is its not just having proof or cause for dismissal. You have to follow the correct process, in the correct order, and in some cases say the correct things. If you don’t then you can end up in employment court.

Example. We Have a staff member who is continuing to under perform, wanted to take 5 weeks leave to go offshore, which we declined , who hasn’t resigned, but is now abandoned the job. Simple you say, fire them and move on! Nope sorry. Because we know they are off-shore we cannot assume abandonment, we cannot hire a replacement because that we pre-meditate their dismissal, and that’s illegal. So we have to wait for them to return (ie run short staffed and under productive) and then go through the process

That process is thus. Have evidence that they’ve done wrong. Invite them to a disciplinary meeting and ask them to bring a support person Explain to them that we are thinking of dismissing them. Ask them what they think of that, how do they feel about the decision. Take that feedback on-board and have a minimum 24 hr “thinking time” (cool down period). Then and only then can we dismiss them. I’ve shortcut this, but this is the process you have to abide by for any “automatic” dismissal according to the dept of labor.

Item two. Restrucutures. In big companies, they have the above issue multiple times. So they save them all up and deal with it through restructures. So instead of dealing with the problem people in a discrete, timely and targeted way, we save them up. Collectively living with the underperformance until such time as we then disrupt large sections of the company with restructures in order to get rid of a few errant performances (and potentially deal with organisations efficiencies, but i’m too cynical to believe that is actually the case)

What if we created processes that meant we as employers could continually cull out underperforming staff? What then? How about better performing business because you have good staff, capably doing the tasks required of them. I think you’d have more motivated staff too. We all know who the dead wood is, and those who create more problems than they solve. In a small business they are poison.  I think most people would cheer the thought of not having to carry them. We’d also benefit from significantly less HR cost, perhaps they could focus more on organisational development then instead?

Good theory, is there evidence? Well yes (more)… “These results suggest that adoption of dismissal protections altered short-run production choices and caused employers to retain unproductive workers, leading to a reduction in technical efficiency”

My own experience of working in the UK and Australia supports this. Those nations rapidly address underperformance in their companies. The result was you don’t have to carry the dead weight, live with the consequence of their often poor decisions and delivery, and a better work environment and bottom line..

Now i’m not proposing Chinese style work environment. The causality of high growth and a lack of workforce regulation and unions is evident, but that to me is exploitative. However I am challenging the need for too much regulation.