UNCERTAINTY – – A SIGN OF THE TIMES?

In my adult life, I cannot remember a longer period of uncertainty. Since 2008, it seems that just about the time we think that things are beginning to “normalize” something happens to introduce more doubt into the world.

First, it was the recession. It was deeper and longer than anyone predicted and many believe that we’re still in it. I know the economy is not performing at the level of a technical recession but when I talk to family, friends and business associates, I get a very different impression.

The stock market took a beating and then recovered but the volatility remains reinforcing the uncertainty. Additionally, many believe that the market recovery is not based on sound economic principles further adding to the angst.

ISIS came on the scene and worldwide terrorism became a daily event.

Now, many are waiting for the Presidential election just ahead before making any serious moves.

So what’s this all about? I, for one, believe that where we are today IS the new normal and that waiting for things to get “better” will only prolong the agony.

That’s not to say that everything is all bad but waiting to make major decisions, personally or in business, does not seem wise. In the new environment waiting for just the right time or for the outcome of this or that just means your are waiting forever.

My personal opinion is that it’s time to get on with it. “IT”” being life and to stop delaying major decisions.

Many businesses are hoarding cash and not expanding. People are postponing major expenditures all due to uncertainty.

What if uncertainty and constant change is the new normal? How do we adapt? What does our decision making process need to look like? How can we sleep at night with all of this swirling around us?

I believe we all need to take a collective deep breath, stop waiting and begin living life again. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is not guaranteed so that leaves us to live today, each and every day.

Believe in yourself, your family, your business sense and do your best to not get distracted by all of the “stuff” in the world that you cannot control.

Here’s to good things happening today and every day in the future.

ARE WE LOOKING FOR THE WRONG SKILLS?

Ninety two percent of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills, according to a recent “State of the Economy and Employment” survey.

What is surprising in the data is that forty four percent of respondents cited soft skills — such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration — as the area with the biggest gap. Twenty two percent cited a lack of technical skills as the reason for the U.S. skills gap.

Interestingly, when commenting on the gap in computer skills, Generation X executives, more than any other generation surveyed, believe this is the skill that most seriously affects the U.S. workforce.

Sixty four percent of senior executives surveyed who believe that the skills gap is the greatest threat to U.S. businesses said investing in companies abroad instead of staying in U.S. is damaging U.S. businesses. Thirty four percent believe the U.S. gap in skills poses a threat to businesses research and development capabilities.

The survey found that the U.S education system needs to do a much better job preparing future generation of workers. More than half (59 percent) of executives surveyed do not believe colleges and universities in the U.S. offer education that adequately prepares their students for today’s workforce.

Eighty nine percent believe corporate apprenticeships or training programs could help alleviate the problem but forty two percent of those said the greatest barrier to creating in-house training programs is the cost.

Manufacturing is the hardest hit by the skills gap in the U.S. at thirty percent followed by technology at twenty one percent and professional and business services at nineteen percent.

Surprisingly, as disturbing as the need is for skilled workers in the U.S., senior executives did not feel the skills gap poses a direct threat to the U.S. economy. Only thirteen percent found it to be a major problem for the country. Instead, federal spending at twenty four percent, global competition at twenty two percent and high unemployment at twenty percent were listed as the greatest threats to the U.S. economy.

Is your organization doing enough to strengthen our education system?

Adapted from an article by Adecco Staffing US.

SOME THOUGHTS ON MANAGEMENT

Recently I was called upon to prepare a presentation for a group of university business students from Brazil. The presentation was to include Leadership and Strategic Management. In thinking about what would be valuable to convey, I didn’t have to think much about Leadership as that is one of the things we’re know for in our industry  but I wanted to find our more about so-called Strategic Management so I did a little research into the subject.

Here is one definition for Strategic Management.

“Strategic Management is all about identification and description of the strategies that managers can carry so as to achieve better performance and a competitive advantage for their organization. An organization is said to have competitive advantage if its profitability is higher than the average profitability for all companies in its industry.”

Now, having been in Business and Management Consulting for about 30 years, I have come to understand that many in my profession have a habit of taking something common, even old, and renaming it as if it were new.

For some reason, not only consultants but Executives and Managers in business seem to delight in creating complexity where it does not need to exist. When operating businesses, there’s really not that much under the sun that is truly new. Now clearly, things like virtual employees, the global nature of business today and technology are new but “business basics” are really not.

So, in looking at one of the latest “new” things to come down the pike, I found Strategic Management not to be new at all. Back around 1960, a gentleman named Eric Gillberg introduced a practice to management known as “Goals and Controls”. This system was based on the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) and was paraphrased to mean “concentrate on the “vital few” and ignore the “trivial many”.

In practice, each supervisor, manager and executives breaks down what they do into a short list of categories that can be easily measured. Each month, results oriented performance goals are set and managed to for these  “vital few” areas in the context of the overall business plan. Three months of successful goal accomplishment role up into a successful quarter and four quarters role up into a successful year.

Now without getting too granular here, one quick example. During the course of any month a sales organization will do thousands of things but to measure all that activity would be foolish. What needs to be measured is gross sales and gross margin. Regardless of how “busy” everyone is, if these two categories of goals are missed, the business hurts.

When done throughout all areas of the business, this becomes a precision management system. Now, there are meetings to report progress and formulate corrective actions if someone is off target and a lot of other things that take place but the fundamentals remain the same. There’s nothing wrong with Strategic Management, it’s just nothing new.

So, take some time to analyze the various complexities in your business and determine if they are really necessary. If they exist for legacy reasons, take a hard look at eliminating or changing them.

Sometimes, going back to basics is the most innovative thing you can do.

How’s the complexity in your business?

SOME MUSINGS ON TEAMWORK

I’ve just returned from a 3 week motorcycle trip to the East Coast that I took with a few fellow riders. We rode from the Los Angeles area through 17 states all the way up to Bangor, Maine.

During the trip which totaled over 5200 miles, we experienced, bad storms (the kind where cars & trucks are pulled over to the side of the Interstate), hot weather, cold weather and multiple other distractions that could have delayed or ended the trip but we pressed on and ultimately prevailed.

Our main goal was to attend a 93 year old motorcycle rally in Laconia, New Hampshire and that goal was achieved.

As with any venture, we were dependent upon each other for many things among just a few were planning, navigation, gas stops, food stops, motel reservations and, most of all, safety. We had no accidents, no mechanical breakdowns, no tickets and no one was injured.

There were times when we disagreed, compromised, argued (from spirited debates come better decisions) but generally went with the group wisdom. We have all ridden together for several years and consider each other to be friends. We knew that it would take all of our cooperation, collaboration and discipline to achieve the goal.

At the end of the trip, I reflected on how we worked together, what went well and what was difficult for us and it struck me how similar this was to almost any business situation.

Sure, we had a ride leader but this group was comprised of strong, opinionated individuals all with a great deal of riding experience. When you consider running a business or a major project, isn’t this the general make-up of most teams? I am convinced that what made us successful were a few important things.

  • Mutual respect for each other
  • Sharing a common goal
  • A healthy disdain for failure
  • Wanting very much to win

When faced with business challenges, it is important to look at your resources in a positive way, consider the depth of experience at your disposal, deeply internalize the team’s commitment to success and always listen to each other. When bright people learn to appreciate each others strengths and to compensate for their weaknesses just about everything is achievable.

How’s the teamwork in your organization?

IS HOLDING PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE PASSE’ ?

There’s been much written of late regarding the changes in the workplace and how management and leadership need to change with it. While, in many ways this is true, there are some things that should be maintained.

We all need to learn new skills and techniques. Increasing our knowledge of how to lead and manage virtual, global enterprises, how to lead and manage a multi generational workforce and how to restructure our organizations and our
thinking to accommodate the ever increasing rate of change are but a few things to keep up with.

But, some things shouldn’t be eliminated. There is a tendency in American business to “throw the baby out with the bath water” when a new trend or fad comes along. I’ve read recently how holding people accountable for specific, measurable results is somehow old fashioned and we should just let people perform as they wish. To me, that is akin to “participation trophies” and it is the fast lane to business failure. People still need to be challenged, their performance measured and good performance rewarded.

We certainly need to treat people with dignity and respect, we need to coach and counsel but we also need to demand performance. When goals are not clear, measurements not visible and everyone is rewarded the same, we create mediocrity.

I don’t know anyone who is in business to become mediocre. Do You?