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Monday, 17 January 2011

Aligning IT with the Business - not again!

Surely too much has already been said on this topic for it still to have any value to CIO’s and IT managers.  It appears not. 

Lately, a number of business surveys (notably NCC www.ncc.co.uk but also Diamond http://bit.ly/dUDI4m and McKinsey http://bit.ly/dIRxeP) have placed the need to ‘Align IT more closely with the business.
How sad. Alignment is an absolute necessity and a fundamental operating principle for any IT team.  And it really should have been put bed some time ago.  But this reported ongoing need highlights how is difficult it is to achieve.  And perhaps it is harder still in these challenging times, when the pressure to cut and contain is at its greatest.  But, 

- Is cutting the right way to go?  
- Is it inevitable that you should respond with a Scrooge like focus?
- Are you really aligning IT with the true business needs if you do so?  
Outside your business, the changes taking place are as great and as fast as they have ever been.  Competitor pressure is intense as existing and new players find new business models and customer expectations are changing rapidly and their demands are growing for speed, information, excitement, accessibility, financial and emotional rewards, and instant feedback and gratification.  
Inside your business everyone has become so much more technology savvy and now believe (even more than before) that they could do this IT stuff themselves.   Alongside, enhanced abilities to capture and manipulate data present opportunities to make cross functional processes more efficient and there is also the ability to better use business intelligence and analysis tools to improve executive decision making.
IT is integral to all these changes and in all these ways, this feels like a period of time for opportunities to be grasped by IT, not a time for it to retreat into its shell.  This is a time to be aligning IT with your organisation’s strategy by helping people in the business to understand the potential that exists, not the limitations.  In other words, I do not believe that it is the time to simply comply and cut costs.
Following, Enabling, Leading
In my book (Align IT: Business Impact through IT), I proposed three types of alignment; Following, Enabling and Leading.  Following entails IT delivering reliably, on time, and on cost; in other words simply delivering what the business expects.  This is the entry level of alignment and represents a hygiene level of operating performance.  To get there, IT needs to be able to listen to what the business wants to achieve, deliver it, and make sure that operationally IT doesn’t get in the way.  This is the stance to be taken if your IT team is just going to follow the cost cutting/stand-still mandate.
On the other hand, Enabling, is much more demanding. It is about enabling the business to achieve its goals through IT.  Whilst IT remains pretty much in a support role, it is more central to delivery and growth.  To perform at this level requires that IT has a much deeper understanding of the business and its strategic aspirations.  That means much more than passively listening to the business’ expectations, it also demands that IT must:
  • Actively engage with business thinking and actions
  • Listen naively (i.e. not just hearing what you want to hear)
  • Open up the IT team to feedback from the business so that they learn and improve
  • Be very clear about the business success criteria (e.g. growth, value creation, target markets, return on capital etc)
This higher level of performance can be difficult, especially if the business itself is not clear about what it wants to achieve or has been knocked off course by recent events.
And here is the opportunity for IT to Lead.  If the business is unclear or unsure, then they need help.  Given the opportunities presented by the changing world and customer demands that I have described, IT can step into the breach and help the business to explore and find the potential that exists.
To succeed will demand that IT goes beyond the naive listening skills and empathy required by Enabling and moves towards:
  • Helping others to see possibilities and opportunities that are hidden to them 
  • Establishing an interacting network that can explore, learn and develop thinking
  • Engaging and inspiring executive colleagues an senior teams
  • Improves boardroom discussions and decision through their personal intervention and the knowledge and information that IT brings to the table
The only good strategy is one that delivers, and therefore you need to ensure that that execution follows insight and planning and to succeed you need to be strong in the Three C’s - Clarity, Commitment, Capability.  Best to see my earlier blog on this topic (http://richardwyatthaines.blogspot.com/2010/12/3-cs-what-and-why.html) and I won't repeat the content here.

So, the choice is yours - are you going to stand still or move on; are you going to take orders or shape the future; are you going to control costs or leverage the opportunity? Are you going to Follow, Enable or Lead?
Your choice, your responsibility, your credibility, your opportunity.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Getting the most from Generation Y's in your business

Thanks again to Growing Business (www.growingbusiness.co.uk) who once again have published an article that stimulates another of my areas of interest; managing Generation Yers.
In essence they say that Generation Yers represent more reward than risk if managed well and properly understood, and they provide a good summary of their behaviour and expectations  (http://www.growingbusiness.co.uk/why-gen-y-is-good-for-your-business.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter).  However, they don't provide much in the way of guidance into how you can manage them to higher levels of performance and results.  So , in brief, let me fill the gap.
Three headlines to remember:
Focus delivery
- Make sure that your organisational purpose has the context that has real meaning for them so that they can connect and engage with it
- Inspire and energise them ( a challenge for some managers)
- Become their performance coach and partner, rather than manager
- Win and maintain their respect (and that does come from some naff attempt to be cool)
Create the right context for performance
- Genuinely put people at the heart of your performance 
- Be consistent.  if you claim to be ethical ( a hit with Gen Yers) make sure that you are truly ethical (inside and out).  If words and actions don't match up they will leave (mentally or physically)
- Provide opportunity and variety
- Stimulate and challenge them and provide a society in which they can operate and feel at home
Maximise capability
- Understand their individual aspirations and motivations
- Help them to achieve personal mastery of their roles
- Review their performance very regularly and give immediate feedback
- Give them responsibility and autonomy.
So, there you have it, a simple recipe for success in managing and leading Generation Yers based on how they have led their lives and the world in which they have grown up.  
But, funnily enough, is seems remarkably close to what we should do for any of our staff, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y or Z.  Perhaps they are a little more demanding, but good for them and perhaps this blog is just a reminder of the good practice that you should be adopting anyway; what's your excuse?

Small business bosses turn to spouses for ‘straight-talking advice’

My thanks to Growing Business (www.growingbusiness.co.uk) for reporting that a survey by TMobile shows Britain’s small business leaders are more likely to trust their spouses over accountants or bank managers to give open business advice.  How warming, but how sad.
Warming to know that family relationships remain so strong despite what we are led to believe by the press, and especially so in the pressure cooker of entrepreneurial businesses fighting the effects of a recession.
Sad though that they are struggling to find the necessary advice and that they are having to rely on their spouses.  Why? Because it is unlikely that their spouse is as objective as required nor is it likely that they have the skills or experience to provide the quality of advice required.
Yes, I know the survey reports that 80% of the small businesses polled stated they take advice from people who will give them the truth and will tell it to them straight, but straight doesn't necessarily mean valuable advice or result in improved performance.
And for me, this where a non exec can rally add value to a growing business.  The attributes of the best non execs for SME's are: 
- straight talking, challenging and yet constructive
- because they have previous entrepreneurial experience, and 
- they can take an objective view, complemented by
- commercial nous
I don't know about you, but not many spouses can bring those qualities to the business.
But this doesn't solve the core problem that the survey highlights; that SME's are having trouble finding the support they need and are having to turn to their spouses to fill the gap.  And this points to the need much greater availability for NED's for SME's.  
- There aren't enough NED's readily available with the special skills or experience required for the SME environment (it's very different from the corporate world) 
- There isn't the support through training and development for potential NED's in order to address the supply and skill shortage problem
- There isn't the marriage-broking service (to use a pun suitable for this piece) to bring businesses and NED's together.  
- And there is the need to ensure that businesses know how to best use their NED for maximum results
Deal with these issues and entrepreneurial businesses can be helped to growth faster, and perhaps husbands and wives can go back to caring about each other on a personal basis and simply enjoying the fruits of their endeavours.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The 3 C's - what and why

Anyone who has worked with me for any time will know that I continually bang on about the Three C’s - Clarity, Commitment, Capability.  Why?
Because every success and failure I have experienced in business seems to have revolved around these three big issues.  And the biggest one is Clarity.
Clarity is about getting everyone (and I mean everyone) understanding what you are trying to achieve.  And not at some easily achieved superficial level.  Deep, very deep understanding is required otherwise people wander off doing their own thing, because they fancy it, or because they just want to carry on doing what they have always done; it’s easier after all.
Call it purpose, vision or mission or whatever you like; I really don’t care The harsh reality is that you have to give your business a laser like focus on something really valuable: valuable to your customers so that they want to buy it, and valuable to you so that you make money out of it.
Clarity focuses resources, mindset, energy, skills, behaviour, people, suppliers …. Clarity focuses everything.  
Clarity removes waste more than any smart assed accountant can ever achieve, however much they cut and chop bits out of budgets.
Clarity provides a decision making filter  for everyone in the business to use.  That means you make better decisions at board level, but more importantly it means that your teams can make decisions on their own, without continual reference to you.  And that means they can do things quicker; they  become more capable; they are more motivated; they look after your customers better and your business becomes more reliable and effective 
Clarity means that your customers understand what you are about and what you offer them.  If makes them confident to come back and buy more because they know how you will behave and what you will do.  They also feel confident to recommend you to their friends.
Indeed you know you really have clarity when your customers relay the same picture about what you do as you do. 
And if you haven’t got it?  Often you will see conflict and hear flatulence.  Neither are much use.  Conflict arises out out competing agendas rather than shared beliefs and distracts from delivery and execution.  Flatulence shows up as wind and is evident to staff and customers alike and normally is experienced by way of unreliability, false promises and a failure to deliver.
So, love clarity with a passion.
I will come back to how you achieve this depth of clarity in the next few editions.  Equally, I will come back to Commitment and Capability in later editions and for now will just provide a brief overview.  
Once you are clear where you are going, you have a chance of winning the commitment that is necessary to execute your plans in a sustainable way.
Commitment shows itself in an unswerving determination and perseverance to deliver.  It is a passion to perform amongst all your staff and a passion to buy repeatedly amongst your customers.  It is motivation and pride and energy.  It is about people being innovative;  innovative in how they do they job, how they find solutions, how they manage and lead, as well as being innovative in delivering new products and services.
It is all these things because it is about lots of people doing something together that they believe in and want to see succeed.  
But that success is shared; it is an aspiration for success for the business and for themselves personally. Therefore to win commitment you must ensure that you focus on the reward for the organisation and for your staff.  And in this regard, I mean reward in the widest sense; motivation, growth, opportunity, recognition, personal development as well as pay.
And finally, when the wheels hit the road, your business and your staff have to have the capability to perform and deliver your aspirations. That will mean you have the skills, culture, knowledge, resources, know-how, controls, experience, connections, distribution, technology, processes, products, cash, brand and leadership to succeed.
The next article in this series will cover, Getting Clarity - how far and how deep?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The buzz? More interims working for SME's

I see that Interim Partners (www.interimpartners.com) are reporting that more interim managers are looking for work in fast growing SME's despite the lower pay rate.  No wonder. The energy you get from a high growth company is electrifying and if you have been working in a major corporate with all the politics, bureaucracy and turgid project delivery, you will welcome the buzz.  
But, be warned ...
Interims from majors can't just think they can get away with operating in the same way they do in larger businesses.  They will need: 
- much greater flexibility and a broader range of skills
- to pick up their own pace to match the environment
- to be much more entrepreneurial, and 
- they need to recognise that they will have to deliver with fewer assets and resources behind them than they are used to drawing on.
So do it as a career choice, not just as a reaction to a job advert.  The entrepreneurial world is different and for many the adjustment is just too great.  For others though, it is the only place to be.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Push, Pull Friction - building a book a piece at a time and watching it grow.

Addiction.  The trouble with writing one book is that you want to write another, just because you have seen more and learnt more.

So here goes.  In this series of occasional blogs I am going give you my views on how to energise people to do things that make an impact in your business; both inside and out.
Each piece will be a short summary of the key issues as I see them so that you can access and use them easily to deliver results that see your business grow.
Each piece will be kept purposefully short so that you can jump in and out; don’t get swamped; and so that you can easily see the key principles.  That way you can apply them as you see fit for your business.
As I set off on this journey, I expect the chapters to be:
Getting it right indoors

Getting Clarity
- why?
- how far, how deep?
- the ways to do it
- hearts and minds
- have they been listening?
- doing it again
- why?
- aspirations and dreams
- getting people to believe
- a deep and lasting passion
- what else could I be doing
- cynics, cowboys and idiots
- what do you really need?
- why haven't you got it now?
- how are you going to get it?
- managers and people, people and managers
- performance leaders
- making it stick
Going out into the world

- I love you
- who are you?
- making it exciting
- a lasting relationship
- winning more friends
- reducing infidelity
- size 12 boots
- raising awareness
- winning interest
- stimulating desire
- closing the deal
- upping the price
- hurdles, barriers and idiots
- more idiots
- process, process, process
- perseverance, perseverance, perseverance
But I am sure it will change as we go along.
Why Push, Pull, Friction?  These are the wise words of a 12 year old boy on learning that his sister is about to do Business Studies.  “That stuff is simple” he says,  “it’s just Push, Pull and Friction”.  Perhaps he is right and we just complicate things.