Defining Issues & Priorities


Ensure that the key issues facing business have been realistically defined in light of the current and rapidly changing business environment. There is nothing new about this requirement, but the fact is that very few management teams actually take the time and apply the discipline necessary to objectively define and prioritize the key issues that can make or break their business. The issues of inferior quality, higher cost products, lower productivity, and nonresponsive service plague manufacturers for the better part of the recent past. Many companies in industries such as steel, automotive, machine tool, textile, farm and construction equipment suffer badly as a result. Only few companies address these issues in effective ways. Most are unable to clearly identify the key issues, set priorities, and develop the necessary business plans to overcome the underlying problems.

While the specific issues vary for different companies and industries, the management mindset should not vary. To deal effectively with an increasingly turbulent environment, priorities must be set so the business can survive unexpected blows, adapt to sudden dropping changes, and then capitalize on smaller windows of opportunity that develop and close much more quickly than they have in the past.

Many progressive managers kick off their planning process with a session aimed specifically at getting agreement on key issues and priorities. Accepting these priorities require a shift in the way most managers think and act, such as:

  • Liquidity becomes a more important objective, often more important than reported earnings. It provides the flexibility to deal more effectively with unexpected events than is possible when everything is tied up in fixed and slow moving assets.
  • Productivity gains per dollar of capital and per employee must be achieved annually. These reductions must exceed inflation and achieve demonstrably lower costs.
  • Innovation must never stop. Demonstrable product and process improvements must be achieved year after year.
  • All cycle and response times must be continuously reduced.
  • A “frightened” sense of urgency must be the way of life in all parts of the business.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Ethical Climate


The unspoken understanding among employees of what is and is not acceptable behavior is called an ethical climate.

In most companies, a moral atmosphere can be detected. People can feel the way the ethical winds are blowing. They pick up subtle hints and clues that tell them what behavior is approved and what is forbidden. Ethical climate is part of the corporate culture that sets the ethical tone in a company. There are three different types of ethical yardsticks: egoism (self-centeredness), benevolence (concern for others), and principle (respect for one’s own integrity, for group norms, and for society’s laws). These ethical yardsticks can be applied to dilemmas concerning individuals, a company, or society at large.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Acknowledging Conflict


Too many managers conceal problem rather than solve them. A range of tensions and conflicts sometimes exist within organization. The realities underlying confrontation need to be addressed. Beneath the symptoms, a latent conflict may be lurking. The drive to impose a change of culture, or a standard approach throughout a corporation, can bring issues to the surface. Under the pressures and demands of corporate transformation, the cracks may widen until the organizational structure blows apart. The managers must acknowledge existence of conflict.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Problems of Conduct


In Japan’s early history, a serious disregard for manners could be punishable by death, and any samurai could kill any common person who failed to show him proper respect. The Japanese were required to behave in precisely prescribed ways—wearing permitted clothing, walking only a certain way, sleeping with their heads pointing in a certain direction and legs arranged a particular way. Eating, greeting, gesturing with hands, opening doors and many work tasks had to be done in assigned ways without deviation. Conduct became a measure of morality, and virtue in manners was visible for all to see. Even today, the code of conduct plays a significant role in the lives of the Japanese. Many societies, not Japan alone, have a prescribed form and manner for every familiar situation that might arise. Unforeseen situations can cause intense embarrassment or discomfort. Throughout East Asia, actions are judged by the manner in which they are performed. More important than the accomplishment of a task is the question of how someone went about trying to complete the task: Did he act sincerely? More important than winning the race is the grace of the runner. More important than expertise is the way one gets along with others. More important than profits is harmony. In contrast, Westerners and particularly Americans are more concerned with the principles of things, hard “measures” and objective facts. Although rules of ethics are extremely important, we are more goal oriented than method-conscious, we say “a good loser is a loser.”

One aspect of form is the concept of “face.” Much has been written about “face-saving” in Japan and China, but face-saving is important absolutely everywhere. The difference is only a matter of degree and nuance. Where an American might feel a little guilty or inadequate, an Asian, Arab or South American may feel deep shame and humiliation. What an American might see as a little honest and constructive criticism, the foreigner may take as a devastating blow to pride and dignity. A foreigner is likely to be sensitive to feelings of others in transactions that an American would consider strictly impersonal, such as returning a defective product or switching hairdressers. The traveler simply must be more conscious of saying things or behaving in ways that cannot be taken as disrespect, criticism or humiliation. In some countries it seems just about anything can be taken personally, even such indirect affronts as not taking your shoes off in a mosque or complaining about the heat.

Harmony with the environment can be as important as sensitivity to people in some cultures. In Japan a woman wears a soft pastel dress to a flower show so as not to take away from the beauty of the flowers. In countries where people believe in reincarnation they are careful about all forms of life. In India, for example, people are careful not to swallow gnats or step on ants—one might be a relative.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight.

Managing Cash and Liquidity


In a turbulent environment, cash returns are important, if not more important, than reported profit returns. Cash returns lead to liquidity, and liquidity is a top priority consideration whenever risks and uncertainties surround a business situation, as they do in so many cases today. Cash and liquidity put any company in a better position to withstand a surprise blow, adapt to sudden changes, and capitalize on the narrower windows of opportunity that are commonplace in a turbulent environment.

This doesn’t mean that profits and profit growth are not important. The whole purpose of any business enterprise is to maximize profits and profit growth, but this objective will  not be achieved if business unit managers do not focus more time and attention on managing their cash and liquidity. Any entrepreneur that has lived through a start-up knows the importance of cash and liquidity. The entrepreneur knows from experience that a business can go bankrupt even while it is reporting profits. But it will never go bankrupt as long as its cash and liquidity positions are strong. Most corporate executives understand this point also, but many do not follow through to make sure it is sufficiently stressed or understood at the operating level. This is where the problem lies. Most business unit managers who operate under a corporate umbrella tend to overlook the importance of managing their own cash and liquidity and look instead to the corporation as a never ending source of funds.

The results are apparent in most corporations. Capital expenditure proposals tend to be a “wish list” often justified on project volume gains or cost savings that never occur. Working capital is allowed to build without adequate regard for carrying costs on the cash commitment. In short, overinvestment in plant and equipment, and working capital often serves as a buffer to cover sloppy business practices and control. These are practices that inevitably lead to an investment base that is too big for the business and to marginal profit returns.

Many operating managers in a corporation are not even aware of the costs incurred while excess capital is tied up in the business. This is not an exaggeration. Just ask any four or five business unit managers how much it costs to carry their inventory. Most of them will acknowledge an interest cost of, say 7—8 percent, but few will recognize that total carrying costs, which include storage, taxes, obsolescence, and shrink, actually run closer to 30 percent in today’s environment. We would also bet that none of them have such charges against their earnings, even though it is a very legitimate cost of doing business.

Not every company operates this way. Most corporate executives are not tough minded or rigorous enough in challenging cash commitments, and most business unit managers have more cash tied up in their business than required.

Ideally, every manager should think like a small business entrepreneur with his or her own money at risk. If this were the case, we would not see so many companies with bloated balance sheets and marginal returns. Left on their own, most business unit managers do not think this way, however. Life is not easier when you can draw almost at will on coroprate resources to meet the payroll, build inventories, and buy supplies, tooling and a lot of equipment. Under such conditions you don’t have to worry very much about how to make ends meet.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Revisiting Leadership


Human beings are designed for learning. Unfortunately, the primary institutions of a society are oriented predominantly toward controlling rather than learning, rewarding individuals for performing for others rather than for cultivating their natural curiosity and impulse to learn. The young child entering school discovers quickly that the name of the game is getting the right answer and avoiding mistakes—a mandate no less compelling to the aspiring managers.

 

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers—grades in school, gold stars, and on up through the university. On the job, people, teams, divisions are ranked—reward for the one at the top, punishment at the bottom. Incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

 

Ironically, by focusing on performing for someone else’s approval, corporations create the very conditions that predestine them to mediocre performance. Over the long run, superior performance depends on superior learning. A full one-third of the Fortune 500 industrials listed in 1970 had vanished by 1983.

 

Today, the average lifetime of the largest industrial enterprises is probably less than half the average lifetime of a person in an industrial society. On the other hand, a small number of companies that survived for seventy-five years or longer. Interestingly, the key to their survival is the ability to run experiments in the margin to continually explore new business and organizational opportunities that create potential new sources of growth.

 

If anything, the need for understanding how organizations learn and accelerating that learning is greater today than ever before. In an increasingly dynamic, interdependent, and unpredictable world, it is simply no longer possible for anyone to figure it all out at the top. The old model, the top thinks and the local acts, must now give way to integrating thinking and acting at all levels.

 

While the challenge is great, so is the potential payoff. The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of the people in his/her organization is going to blow the competition way.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight