Posts Tagged ‘enterprise robustness’

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

“Stand to!” is the order given to put troops in a high state of readiness. It comes from the trenches of the First World War, when forces on both sides would stand ready for action at the parapets just before dawn and just after dusk in case of surprise enemy attack. The practice continues to this day, although adapted to the realities of modern warfare and conflict. The order to “stand to!” encapsulates the whole theory and practice of military readiness, which is about awareness, anticipation, and preparation before, during, and after operations, in war and in peace.

It’s time for a change. My book Brilliant Manoeuvres came out in the fall of 2012 and since then I’ve been issuing Brilliant Manoeuvres just about every Monday morning to help, you, my faithful readers manoeuvre successfully to achieve outstanding growth in your business and leadership capacity.

I’ve decided to change my focus to generating and building your business readiness. This is also in line with my latest writing project, tentatively titled, Stand To! Military Readiness Principles to Thrive in Business and Propel Your Growth.

Why is military readiness relevant for business? In my practice as a business consultant, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, executives and entrepreneurs are well prepared to fight the last war, but not well positioned to fight the current one, much less the next one. They frequently have limited situational awareness, poorly adapted decision-making, planning, and communication processes, and are sluggish in leveraging opportunities, responding to threats, and mitigating risks. After all, change is permanent; the real question is whether a business can exploit it and shape it to its advantage, whether it is positioned to seize and maintain the initiative or to reel from successive blows of evolving markets and competition.

From Awareness to Robustness–What Is Business Readiness?

Business readiness is the capacity to exploit change by maximizing opportunities and minimizing risks and threats in order to grow and thrive.

The first level of business readiness is situational awareness, which I define as the ability to discern an organizational shock or environmental change that may lead to crisis, and to take a measured approach to avoiding, leveraging, or resolving it.

The second level of business readiness is preparedness. A well prepared organization is one which has identified a number of risks and threats beforehand and has taken measures to mitigate or even eliminate some of these through active prevention. Many organizations have contingency plans to deal with various disasters, emergencies, and crises due to technological or natural hazards. The quintessential ready organization is the fire department, which has a well-defined set of threats and risks and is structured, trained, and equipped exactly for that purpose. There are others, however, such as airports, hospitals and other health-care facilities, law enforcement agencies, etc. Firms such as builders, manufacturers and mining companies also must have plans and procedures in place to deal with accidents, technological hazards, competition, and socio-political opposition.

The highest level of business readiness is robustness, which I define as the ability to absorb change and shocks by shaping the environment and leveraging the inevitable risks, threats, and uncertainty. Not many organizations operate at this level of readiness. Military forces come to mind as singularly robust and they can be used in a number of areas beyond combat because of their built in resiliency, flexibility, and access to logistical and human resources anywhere, at any time. While they can provide a useful example of what is possible, the reality is that most organizations are currently not very capable in this regard.

What all of these levels have in common is a certain level of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity and shock and to continue functioning adequately. Further to that, however, situational awarenesspreparedness, and robustness are functions of increasing flexibilityredundancy, risk-taking, resourcefulness, and individual/collective initiative. All of these capabilities can be built into an organization and inculcated into its leadership and employees.

I hope you’ll join me as I develop this theme over the coming weeks and months. Feel free to contact me at any time with suggestions, questions, or comments.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding, and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

During the Falklands War in 1982, British paratroopers were fighting to capture an Argentine position near the settlement of Goose Green. At one point, a small Argentine force that was dug in held up an entire British battalion’s advance. The British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones, decided he had to do something quickly to break the impasse. He rallied a group of soldiers and NCOs around him, and led a charge directly on the Argentine position. This so surprised the Argentine defenders that they quickly surrendered. Jones was killed during the action and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour. Leading a platoon attack is not normally in a battalion commander’s job description, but his timely decision to personally lead an assault against the Argentines was the right thing to do, at the right time, with the right effects. Jones’s action accelerated results and allowed the British paratroopers to win the day.

There is an unwritten principle in military strategy that says an imperfect action now is often better than a perfect action carried out too late. Battlefield conditions can change quickly. The enemy detects the opportunity he’s given you and closes the breach, or your momentary advantages have dissipated. This is exactly the situation that Lieutenant Colonel Jones faced at Goose Green. He took a quick decision, led an improvised, and therefore very imperfect attack, but exploited an opportunity in the process.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the necessity of judicious planning and consideration of options before acting. However, this does not obviate the requirement to act promptly and with vigour when an opportunity presents itself, or when the time is right. When you’re bogged down in process and details, and the results you’re hoping for are not coming quickly enough and in enough volume, you need to act to shake things up.

Here are some areas to consider and techniques to implement to accelerate results, to shake things up and act with vigour quickly and opportunely even though conditions are not perfect.

•Stop doing what is not essential or vacuous and focus on essentials.
•What is the main effort? Where should you and your team be putting energy and resources?
•What obstacles or resistance are holding up your results or your improvement?
•Just like that paratroop commander, what actions can you take that will surprise resistors or competitors and put them on the defensive, while simultaneously giving you the initiative?
•Strategically, what is the main effort to achieve your overarching business objectives?
•Operationally, what processes and systems that, if changed, will have a major positive impact on how your company functions and that can provide a major tactical boost to your people?
•Tactically, what are the major tasks or areas you have to focus on in the next 24-48 hours to break the logjam so you can win that big contract, reach that major prospect, complete that project that’s been draining you and your team of its energy and vigour?
•Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? A satisficer is someone who is willing and able to act with resolve when they’re 60 to 80 per cent ready. A maximizer is someone who feels compelled to wait for perfect plans and conditions before acting. Obviously, to break a logjam and accelerate results in the manner I’m describing requires acting like a satisficer. If you’re a maximizer, you need to change your mindset, at least temporarily, and take action quickly.
•Focus on results, not process. What is working and what isn’t? What should you stop and what should you continue?
•Take resources away from underperforming areas and reassign them temporarily or permanently to higher performing areas, where there will be a better bang for the buck.
•Assign your best managers and executives to the areas of biggest payoff. This is counterintuitive to most people, because they feel compelled to put the best people on the biggest problems. You have to take your stars and give them responsibility for the initiatives and business units with the highest ROI and potential. You can assign your problem areas to your middling performers, because they often have good analytical and deliberative abilities, and this is what you need to work on problems. Big payoffs, however, require leadership, decisiveness, and risk-taking, and that is where your best performers should be working.

The aim here isn’t to get rid of judicious consideration of options, detailed planning, and rational analysis, but rather to look at ways of accelerating results when you get bogged down. There are many reasons why you can get bogged down: consistently poor results leading to low morale; internal or external resistance to your plans; lack of resolve and leadership to see things through difficulties and obstacles; outright opposition from competitors and opponents; or simply because the initiative got off to the wrong start.

The idea is to give a jolt and a boost to yourself and your organization by focusing on results, not process, by getting back to basics and acting quickly with the resources you have rather than waiting for perfection. If you’re a satisficer and can live with ambiguity and imperfection, you’re already half way there. If you’re a maximizer, you have to temporarily get out of your comfort zone and take action now even though you don’t think you’re fully ready. In the final analysis, accelerating results is about acting and adjusting to get results, not planning and dithering to achieve perfection.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

CBC News is reporting this morning on a TD Waterhouse poll result indicating only about a quarter of small businesses have a succession plan in place for when the founder/owner retires.

That’s pretty bad, in and of itself. But even worse is the fact that right now, most small businesses are completely reliant on their founder/owners as principal marketer and salesperson, operations head, director of HR, head of procurement and supply, production manager, etc. etc.

It’s inevitable that a small business owner will do most if not all of the work at the beginning, but as the business grows, the company’s knowledge, skill set, and processes must be progressively systematized. The key is to get what is in the owner’s head out into the systems and processes and structures of the enterprise. This is so that employees can act and innovate based on the owner’s knowledge and acumen.

A few years ago, I was chatting with the president of a small tool supply business. The owner, a man in his early 50s, had succumbed to a massive heart attack and died on the job. When everyone in the company got over the initial shock, they realized that everything of consequence about running that business was in the owner’s head. We’re talking processes, supplier lists, client contacts, stocks, financials. Everything. The new president admitted freely that the company almost went under, simply because no one knew who to contact upstream or downstream, or even the full picture of the business. Disaster was averted (beyond the death of the owner), but it could easily have been otherwise.

Companies, even very small businesses, need to think about worst case scenarios. For a small business, the worst case is always the permanent or temporary loss of the owner/president. Can the company operate for a length of time without it’s principal impetus to action? Would employees know who to call at clients or suppliers? Do they know who the insurance brokers are? Do they have a relationship with the banker? How about the accountant?

The owner doesn’t need to die for this to be a major hindrance to the company. It could be personal or family illness, injury, or just overwork, leading to the principal not being at his or her personal best for a length of time.

The time to prepare for these situations is now, when everything is operating smoothly. Even small businesses must improve their robustness. This is the ability to survive and even thrive in adverse circumstances.

© 2011 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.