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.

Talking about Bookkeeping


Everyone knows intuitively, if not experientially, that good bookkeeping is good business. If you don’t keep track of your business’s money matters—what comes in and what goes out—you will be in the dark as to how well or poorly your business is doing, and hence how well or poorly you’re handling certain aspects of the business. After all numbers do not lie. If they indicate that all is well, you’ll be able to capitalize on your success by, if nothing else, continuing to do with confidence whatever you’re doing right. If the numbers reveal that all is not well, you will be able to take appropriate measures to solve problems which if left unchecked could land you in failure zone. Just as with certain physical diseases, early detection means early cure and increased chance of survival. Lastly, it goes without saying that slipshod recordkeeping can cost you time, anxiety and even money when tax time rolls around. In sum, while its understandable that people are inclined to avoid and neglect bookkeeping matters, its fundamentally inexcusable.

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.

Involving Employees


To be successful when facing multiple tasks, often on multiple projects, more employees at all levels will need to delegate some of their activities and responsibilities to other organizational members. This means that employees are going to have to be give certain amounts of authority to make decisions that directly effect their work. Even though delegation was once perceived as something that managers did with lower levels of management, delegation will be required at all levels of the organization—in essence, peer delegation, or using influence without authority.

In addition to being required to take on more responsibilities, employees will be expected to make decisions without the benefit of the tried-and-true decisions of the past. And because all these employees are part of the process today, there is more of a need for them to contribute to the decision-making process. In most organizations, the days of autocratic management are over. To facilitate customer demands and fulfill corporate expectations, today’s employees need to be more involved. Group decision-making enables these employees to have more input into the processes, and greater access to needed information. Such actions are also consistent with work environments that require increased creativity and innovation.

Another phenomenon of involving employees will be an emphasis on work teams. The bureaucratic structure of yesterday—where clear lines of authority existed and the chain of command was paramount—is not appropriate for many of today’s companies. Workers from different specializations in an organization are increasingly required to work together to successfully complete complex projects. As such traditional work areas have given way to more of a team effort, building and capitalizing on the various skills and backgrounds that each member brings to the team.

Involving employees allows them an opportunity to focus on the job goals. By giving them more freedom, employees are in a better position to develop the means to achieve the desired results.

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

Preparing an Effective Presentation


The first step in preparing for a presentation is to analyze the needs of the audience. You can then tailor your presentation to their interests and expectations.

As you analyze your audience, consider the following questions:

  • What need or opportunity prompted the presentation?
  1. What is the general purpose of the presentation (for instance, a ceremonial occasion, information, persuasion, entertainment)?
  2. What kind of response or specific outcome do I want as a result of the presentation?
  • Who specifically, will be attending the presentation?
  1. What are the relevant demographic characteristics (such as educational backgrounds, ages, gender) of audience members?
  • What do audience members already know about the subject?
  1. What has been their exposure to, or experience with, the particular subject I am addressing?
  2. What background information is necessary for the group?
  • What is the audience’s attitude toward me, the presenter?
  1. What is the level of my credibility?
  2. How does the audience perceive my role in the meeting?
  • What is important to the audience?
  1. What do they want and need to know from my presentation?
  2. Of the information I have, what do they most need to know?
  3. How can I capitalize on the audience’s interests and expectations to reach my objective?
  • What are the physical arrangements?
  1. When will I be presenting? How much time do I have?
  2. How many people will be there?
  3. How will the audience be seated?
  4. What equipment is available for visual aids?
  • How will I improvise if my best-laid plans fall through?
  1. What if I have only a portion of the time that I expected?
  2. What if the audiovisual equipment I counted on is not available?

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

Knowledge Entrepreneurs


There depends a lot on the energy and imagination of knowledge entrepreneurs. They need to identify specific opportunities being created by the greater availability and accessibility of information and knowledge, and craft distinctive information and knowledge-based products and services.

All entrepreneurs have to identify opportunities to add value by meeting requirements that are not being addressed, and they must be focused and tenacious and possess a clear sense of direction. Most entrepreneurs need also to be tough, pragmatic and resilient. In addition, knowledge entrepreneurs need the following qualities:

  • They must know how to acquire, develop, share, manage, exploit and capitalize on information, knowledge and understanding, and be able to help and enable others to use and apply them effectively. This may require combinations of emerging technologies to connect relevant people and organizations together, and competencies to network with others, work and learn in new ways in order to create value, lead and manage virtual teams, and establish and manage knowledge businesses.
  • They need curiousity and drive to undertake intelligent searches and to be able to judge or determine the significance, relevance and value of what they uncover. Many more people can access information than assess it or use it effectively. Understanding where information has come from, the underlying assumptions and how it has been compiled can prevent an enterprise or a course of action from being built upon foundations of sand.
  • They require enough understanding of systems to be able to use an appropriate range of technologies to identify and access relevant sources of information, knowledge and understanding. However, technical expertise is unlikely to be enough. Communication and relationship-building skills are also required to interact with information providers and bring together the combination of experience and knowledge needed to assemble a package that has market value.

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

Developing a Goals System


The process of identifying and structuring the goals system that is emerging from an exploration of strategic issues helps clarify what the strategic direction of the organization will be if no deliberate actions are taken to change it. Through understanding the potential impact of the issues and opportunities facing the organization, steps can be taken to position the organization in such a way as to resolve or capitalize upon these. As such, it provides a valuable benchmark against which to consider the strategic future. Thus, the process involves identifying the goals and understanding how they impact on one another. However, we usually find that a developing understanding of the nature of a goal comes from working on your own material.

Although not being absolutely dependent on the previous activities of issue surfacing, or interviewing using cognitive maps, the goal surfacing activity powerfully extends both the initial activities and takes the strategic thinking process one step further towards realizing a strategic intent and direction. An alternative means of surfacing goals can be achieved through starting with a blank wall (or computer screen if using the computer-supported mode of working). However, this form of the process does not recognize the role of existing problem identification (surfacing the issues) in suggesting real goals of the organization are and can be distracted from, through discussing those that are espoused. Starting with a description of apparent goals can miss the reality of the organization and provides an idealistic view of what the organization can and will achieve.

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

Great Managers Rely on Steps


The best managers know that their challenge is not to perfect people, but to capitalize on each person’s uniqueness. They select for talent, no matter how simple the role. Their first instinct is to trust the people they have selected. And they believe that, with enough thought, even intangibles like “customer satisfaction” and “employee morale” can be defined in terms of outcomes.

However, this does not mean they dismiss the need for steps. They don’t. A manager’s basic responsibility is to turn talent into performance. Certain required steps can often serve as the platform for that performance. These managers, in a survey, described how and when they use required steps to drive performance.

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

The Dynamics of Social Responsibility


The various stakeholders of a firm can be divided into inside stakeholders and outside stakeholders. The insiders are the individuals or groups that are stakeholders or employees of the firm. The outsiders are all the other individuals or groups that the firm’s actions affect. The extremely large and often amorphous set of outsiders makes the general claim that the firm be socially responsible.

Perhaps the thorniest issues faced in defining a company mission are those that pertain to responsibility. The stakeholder approach offers the clearest perspective on such issues. Broadly stated, outsiders often demand that insider’s claims be subordinated to the greater good of the society; that is, to the greater good of the outrsiders. They believe that such issues as pollution, the disposal of solid and liquid wastes, and the conservation of natural resources should be principal consideration in strategic decision making. Also broadly stated, insiders tend to believe that the competing claims of outsiders should be balanced against one another in a way that protects the company mission. For example, they tend to believe that the need of consumers for a product should be balanced against the water pollution resulting from its production if the firm cannot eliminate that pollution entirely and still remain profitable. Some insiders also argue that the claims of society, as expressed in government regulation, provide tax money that can be used to eliminate water pollution and the like if the general public wants this to be done.

The issues are numerous, complex, and contingent on specific situations. Thus, rigid rules of business conduct cannot deal with them. Each firm regardless of size must decide how to meet its perceived social responsibility. While large, well-capitalized companies may have easy access to environmental consultants, this is not an affordable strategy for smaller companies. However, the experience of many small businesses demonstrates that it is feasible to accomplish significant pollution prevention and waste reduction without big expenditures and without hiring consultants. Once a problem area has been identified, a company’s line employees frequently can develop a solution. Other important pollution prevention strategies include changing the materials used or redesigning how operations are bid out. Making pollution prevention a social responsibility can be beneficial to smaller companies. Publicly traded firms also can benefit directly from socially responsible strategies.

Different approaches adopted by different firms reflect differences in competitive position, industry, country, environmental and ecological pressures, and a host of other factors. In other words, they will reflect both situational factors and differing priorities in the acknowledgement of claims. Obviously, winning the loyalty of the growing legions of consumers will require new marketing strategies and new alliances in the 21st Century. Many marketers already have discovered these new marketing realities by adopting strategies called the “4 Es.” 1) make it easy for the consumer to be green, 2) empower consumers with solutions, 3) enlist the support of the consumer, and 4) establish credibility with all publics and help to avoid a backlash.

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

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

What Great Managers Know


Conventional wisdom encourages you to think . People’s natures do change, it whispers. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they just try hard enough. Indeed, as a manager it is your duty to direct those changes. Devise rules and policies to control your employees’ unruly inclinations. Teach them skills and competencies to fill in the traits they lack. All of your best efforts as a manager should focus on either muzzling or correcting what nature saw fit to provide.

 Great managers reject this out of hand. They remember what the frog forgot: that each individual is true to his unique nature. They recognize that each person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others. They know that there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone. But they don’t bemoan these differences and try to grind them down. Instead they capitalize on them. They try to help each person become more and more of who he already is.

Simply put, this is the one insight echoed by tens of thousands of great managers:

  • People don’t change that much
  • Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out
  • Try to draw out what was left in
  • That is hard enough.

This insight is the source of their wisdom. It explains everything they do with and for their people. It is the foundation of their success as managers.

This insight is revolutionary. It explains why great managers do not believe that everyone has unlimited potential; why they do not help people fix their weaknesses; why they insist on breaking the “Golden Rule” with every single employee; and why they play favorites. It explains why great managers break all the rules of conventional wisdom.

Simply though it may sound, this is a complex and subtle insight. If you applied it without sophistication, you could quickly find yourself suggesting that managers should ignore people’s weaknesses and that all training is a complete waste of time. Neither is true. Like all revolutionary messages, this particular insight requires explanation.

 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

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