Thursday, August 30, 2012

Parkinson’s Law—Overworked and Underpaid

The Lifecycle explains one of the natural forces at work driving change, but there are other factors at work as well.  Parkinson’s Law is one of the more important of those natural forces impacting business negatively.  Cyril Northcote Parkinson (30 July 1909 – 9 March 1993) was a British naval historian and author of some sixty books, the most famous of which was his bestseller Parkinson's Law, which led him to also be considered as an important scholar within the field of public administration.  He is credited with the infallible observation that “work expands to fill available time” and by extension “expenses rise to meet income.”  It is the idea that work creates work and thus management must be constantly diligent and alert—simplifying and eliminating.  That is the ability that governments and bureaucracies seem unable to master.  Without change dedicated to simplifying and eliminating, negative forces will drive a business into unsustainable levels of inefficiency. 
PS:  I will be signing my books at the Landmark Booksellers in Franklin TN on September 13, 2012 from 5:30 to 7:30.  The event is called a Book Tasting and we will have wine (claret of course), cheese, snacks, free gifts and prizes.  If you have already purchased The Claret Murders or any of my other books bring them with you to be signed. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Managing Change-KASH

In order for the downward spike of the Change Curve to be stopped and the upward movement to occur to the point of achieving the targeted higher performance, those involved must have four things: new Knowledge combined with the right Attitude to acquire necessary Skills which through use become Habit.

The people affected must acquire new knowledge—for the sake of illustrating what I mean by new knowledge, think of a user’s manual or training.  The receptionist trying to deal with a new phone system has to be trained, and equally important all the people in the office have to understand how their piece of the system works including its new benefits and features.  If they have been given that prerequisite knowledge, or eventually dig it out themselves, then with the right attitude they will acquire new skills (the skill to use the new equipment and features).  In short they will know how, but until those skills become habit, higher performance will go unrealized.  It is only over time that those skills become habit and allow the Change Curve to reverse its downward trend turning upward from its low point, the valley of despair, to climb up to targeted performance.  It is like a golfer or other athlete who develops muscle memory.  Taking advantage of the new equipment and benefits has to become instinctive.  If you have to take the time to check with others, refer to a checklist or open a user’s guide, the new system will still be getting in the way of performance.

When a receptionist dealing with a new phone system says “If you ask me this has just made things worse,” she is the victim of a lack of proactive change management. Sooner or later, in the example of the phone system, the organization will survive and get some of the desired benefit of upgrading its phone system—but not before hurting its performance and frustrating its people and customers for some period of time.  But other changes, left to similarly fester, can literally put a company out of business.  It is a scenario I have seen played out many times. 

PS: My new book, The Claret Murders continues to get strong reviews.  The Kirkus review organization said, "Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” " …when the great cache of wine enters the picture and then a roaring storm comes down to swamp the landscape and the cellar, Collins deftly moves the story forward, and frankly, the reader really wants to know what happens to the wine more than Ann, Paul and the rest of the no-goods. Collins has a nice way of evoking Tennessee, its pace and proprieties and politics, from the spicy Zumba rhythms of a local club to the breeching banks of the Cumberland River."  Ebooks are only $2.99 for the Kindle, Nook and, by going to iTunes, the IPad.  Amazon has the print edition for $15,99 and signed copies are available by going to

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Change Curve

Business success occurs through change.  The organization seeking purposeful long-term success pursues Excellence and Lead Positions.  It practices Constant Innovation.  It diligently simplifies and eliminates.  It practices Management Judo and guards against developing weaknesses internally.  The organization that does not do those things is at the mercy of the natural forces that change us for the worse.

I am reminded of a TV commercial.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what the ad was for.  It showed a harried office receptionist trying to handle incoming phone calls.  She says, “They told us that this new phone system would make everyone more productive.”  There is a long pause.  She looks into the camera and says, “If you ask me they have just made things worse.”  To understand why things got worse, you have to know what change looks like.  We make changes like the new telephone system because we want to move to a new level of performance or benefit as illustrated here. 

In the real world that is not the way change behaves.  Change creates a sharp downward spike in performance—the bigger the change, the bigger the downward spike.  The less investment made in preparing for and managing change, the bigger the downward spike.  The Change Curve turns upward only over time, and the rate of that upward climb is dependent on how effectively the change is managed. 

PS: My new novel, The Claret Murders just got another great review from one of the professional review organizations.  This is what Kirkus had to say: "Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”  You can get e-book copies (Kindle, Nook or Ipad) for just $2,99 or the printed copy for $15.99.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Management Judo

Peter Drucker identified a common behavioral trait among established organizations. One that over time renders them competitively weaker and gives the alert company the opportunity to achieve increased market share through Management Judo—leveraging off of the competitor’s weaknesses for an advantage.  The weaknesses companies tend to develop over time include:

  • A “not invented here” (NIH) attitude that will make the company slow to take advantage of new technology, processes, or materials, etc.  
  • The “Creamer” will concentrate too long on the higher profit, upper end of the market leaving the door open for others to enter the market through the lower end.  
  • Failure to stay in touch with clients will result in the company emphasizing its idea of best  quality or features (Wrong Quality) leaving the customer’s real wants unsatisfied or the price too high.  
  • The “Premium Pricer” is the high price alternative and continues to maintain or even increase price in the face of equal or superior competitive alternatives.  
  • The “Maximizer” keeps adding features to satisfy marginal market elements leaving the door open for the niche company that will provide a simpler, lower cost product or service that only addresses the needs of a particular market segment.  

The marketplace is littered with the bones of those who died at the hands of competitive Management Judo.  It is important to understand that without constant management effort these weaknesses will develop.  For the excellence company that means that the opportunity to gain market share through Management Judo will arise repeatedly.  But perhaps even more importantly, you must recognize that the seeds of these five weaknesses are also within your organization.  They will develop and you will lose market share and eventually fail as a company unless you are continually making changes and altering course to counter their development.  Left unattended they will development.  They are part of the natural changes that pull an organization down.

The successful company must always be on guard against developing Drucker’s identified weaknesses and at the same time remain alert for opportunities it can take advantage of when its competitors fall into the behavioral trap identified by Drucker.

PS:  Buy the Kindle e-book edition of my new mystery, The Claret Murders, for only $2.99.  Nook and IPad editions are also $2.99. A print edition of the book is available from Amazon for $15.99.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Profiting from Uncertainty and Change

I was looking over my bookshelf.  Yes, I still have printed books that I read; not everything has gone digital.  One of the books on the self is Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings by Paul J.H. Schoemaker.

Few of us have the concentration needed to apply Schoemaker's approach to scenario planning and dynamic monitoring.  Nevertheless, Schoemaker has it right.  Change (especially uncertain change) is the stuff opportunities are made of—provided you have developed a way of thinking that prepares you and your business to take advantage of whatever the future brings.  The French scientist Louis Pasteur said it in one short sentence: "Chance favors only the prepared mind."

This morning my wife was reading about the problems resulting from changes in apartment and home design—open floor plans, hardwood floors, hard surfaces like granite and the disappearance of window curtains.  Surprise—privacy has been eliminated and the hard surfaces have created a sound problem.  As a result, there is now demand for mechanical screens to close off open spaces when privacy is needed and sound absorbing panels to dampen the reverberating noise.

The point is change increases opportunities.  The key is to be prepared for it so that you can move quickly to get there with products or services to meet new needs.  You have to anticipate possible future events in order to have a basic plan in place to move faster and with more resources than the other guy.  Have a weekly lunch or a monthly evening session devoted to nothing but thinking about things that could happen and then thinking about how they could happen differently.  The mission would be to identify strategies that would allow you to benefit rather than suffer from these events.

Have fun thinking "out of the box" and strategically thinking about how you could capitalize rather than suffer from uncertain future events.  That "thinking out of the box" exercise is likely to become your vehicle for rapid response to real-life events.  Chance, Luck, Opportunity—whatever you call it, it benefits best those who are prepared.  Practice prepares you to take advantage of events that surprise others.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fix It Before It Breaks

The notion that excellence once achieved can only be maintained through constant innovation brings us to the second of the two certainties in business and life—change is constant. The old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." is dead wrong because things are always in the state of breaking.  Nothing is exempt. Everything, a chair, a desk, the technology you depend on, the materials you use, the availability of labor and capital, competitive conditions, government controls, customer preferences are all in a state of flux.  Everything and every condition, whole industries, even human life, have a life cycle. Things come into existence.  They mature and prosper.  They wane and begin a decline.  And ultimately they are replaced.

Successful businesses succeed by building one life cycle on top of another.
As one turns down, the successful organization shifts its emphasis to a new life cycle—one beginning its upswing. The successful company must always be asking “what is next?”  It must be engaged in strategic planning and intelligence gathering to plan its future—preparing to adjust and evolve—“fixing it before it breaks” by moving across from one life cycle to another.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lead Position

Peter Drucker said that only a leading edge position allows a business to achieve results.  Anything less is at best competent which leads to marginal.  Taking a lead position with respect to a product or service does not mean bigger or more costly.  It does mean an advantageous difference in the eyes of the customer.  Excellent organizations pursue lead positions.  How can we remain different and better? That is a question that an effective team is constantly asking.  It is an opportunity to be persistently pursued because lead positions are both transitory and targets for the competition.

 It is a game of leapfrog. The excellence organization is constantly leapfrogging to a new lead position.