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March 2009

Are You Sabotaging Your Success?

"It is easier for companies to come up with new ideas than to let go of old ones."  Peter Drucker.

These words reminded me of "The Rope", the tale of a mountaineer who set out to win the glory of being the first to climb a dangerous high peak completely on his own. After years of training he began his ascent and was doing extremely well, approaching the summit. Setting off in the early morning darkness for the final assault, he slipped and fell at a great speed into a very deep crevasse, where all around was totally dark. After what seemed like an age, with his life flashing before him, he finally felt the rope tighten around his waist and he jerked to a violent halt, to find himself dangling in mid-air. In the pitch dark he could see and feel nothing. In panic and desperation, he found himself screaming, "Help me God!" Then, to his amazement, he heard a quiet voice that said, "What do you want me to do?" He replied, "Save me God!" "Do you really think I can save you?" the voice asked. "Of course I believe you can!" the climber answered. "Then cut the rope tied to your waist."

After that there was silence, but the man just clung tighter to the rope. And that was how the rescue team eventually found his frozen body, firmly tied and gripping the rope, less than ten feet above the soft snow on the ground!    

So, what is the connection? It's the need to "let go". With innovation being increasingly championed as the key competitive advantage, it is important not to forget Drucker's words. A business is like a cupboard: you cannot go on putting new stuff in until you take some of the old stuff out. Old ideas have to be let go, otherwise they drain resources and dilute the focus and energy that is essential for success.

Clinging to old ideas may be broadly included in the category of resistance to change, but it is not necessarily always identified, nor confined to the lower levels of the organisation. It may attach to historic products, original systems, comfortable processes, or any other of a wide range of factors that are taken for granted; and it may not be safe to assume that it will always be identified by continuous improvement initiatives.

So be sure to build Drucker's observation into your innovation strategy and consider what you might dispense with to make room for the new ideas. Do not sabotage success by hanging on to the old. Who knows, even your survival could depend on it.    

7 Competitive Advantages - Trumped!

The Institute of Directors (IOD) has identified that companies who do not cut training spend in a recession gain seven competitive advantages. Such companies: 

  1. Are well-positioned when economy recovery starts, as those businesses that do not survive will open up market share to those who do. 
  2. Remain competitive. Knowledgeable employees are more motivated and will find new ways of generating revenue. 
  3. Have greater understanding of customers’ buying habits and how to build on their loyalty, which helps to maintain repeat business in a recession. 
  4. Enable their people to stand back from the day-to-day operations and understand the strategic implications of their work. 
  5. Send one of the most powerful messages to their employees - that they are valued. When your employees are anxious about job security, it is more important than ever to demonstrate a commitment to them. 
  6. Avoid a long term skills shortage. (Apparently UK businesses are still recovering from skills lost during the 1990s recession due to poor investment.) 
  7. Benefit from increased productivity in the short term, as well as the long term.

The IOD concludes from all this that "the sooner you engage your staff, the earlier you can address and deal with the impact of the recession."

A recession, when time pressures are considerably reduced, is an ideal time to invest in training. It certainly takes courage and conviction, but the dividends can be huge. Remember, IBM became the company it did because Thomas Watson refused to layoff anyone during the Great Depression. Instead he required his people to use their time gainfully, improving themselves, with the result that after the Depression, IBM was, for a considerable period, one of the most successful companies in the world.

So just think, if training people during a recession can make the sort of difference the IOD depicts, how much more will actually valuing people deliver? If the key point is, as they say, that people need to feel valued in order to be engaged, this has to deliver all these benefits and then some.  

Will Your Principles Stand the Test of Time?

On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products." Jack Welch, as quoted in the Financial Times, 12th March 2009.

Yes! This is the same Jack Welch who had the sobriquet "Neutron Jack" for his ruthless pursuit of shareholder value and insistence that the 'bottom 10%' of employees should be replaced every year.

Perhaps the man deserves credit for admitting he was wrong, but, while they might be surprised to learn that employees are the new number one constituency, anyone who fell foul of that earlier ethos is unlikely to feel charitably disposed towards him or inclined to forgive him as a result. In my book, Welch's revocation epitomises the lack of basic principles evidenced by so many business leaders. For me, a principle is a timeless value that supersedes any label and fuses the spiritual with the human and so underpins any human activity. For example, the Golden Rule, the call to "treat others the way you would like to be treated" is probably one of the most universal, essentially underpinning most moral, philosophical and religious belief. It is applicable to all walks of life, not least business, which is ultimately the provision of service. Unfortunately, with the pursuit of profit on the treadmill of growth, there has been an erosion of principles, with the concomitant loss of integrity, honour, humanity, morality and good judgment.

Zealise was in fact formed to redress this erosion: to help inspire people and organisations to better fulfil their potential by igniting the energy and enthusiasm that comes from within when we are all enjoying life and the part we play in contributing to a worthwhile goal as part of a larger team. How much of life is wasted if we are not happy in our work?

No business can survive without a worthwhile purpose; nor can it do so without good, engaged employees. This is why the blog "What is Business For" is so interesting. It is fascinating to read that governments are being encouraged to "switch from boosting GDP growth to measures that more directly relate to human happiness." I am sceptical about governments' ability to deliver great change, but I think that a shift in this direction might go a long way towards changing business priorities. To suggest that happiness would be a more worthwhile measure of success than shareholder value might seem radical, but employee engagement statistics already tell us otherwise. As employee engagement is inextricably linked to the organisational values, the starting point  for change would appear to be to re-examine principles and values.

Have you examined the principles in your organisation lately? Will they stand the test of time?

The Better Way to Manage People in a Downturn!

Eureka! Somebody else out there agrees that it is sheer lunacy to be laying off people at the rate at which business is currently doing.

4.4 million people have been laid-off in the US in the past 5 months, while here in the UK that number has topped a million! This is devastating in itself, but what is even more tragic is the way we wring our hands and shake our heads and do so little to change things. This stock response to economic downturn simply exacerbates the situation, yet business leaders persist and we all seem to think there is no choice.

But there is, and we need to act accordingly. Governments are pouring billions into their respective economies to encourage banks to start lending. Yet they are simultaneously insisting banks adopt more prudent lending practices. But such unemployment numbers mean there will be no-one for the banks to lend to, for, even if they wanted to lend to people without income, there will be little demand.

The logic of all this is clearly questionable. However, so is the role of business leaders, because , in compounding the problem, one can only conclude that:

  1. If they understand the situation, their actions in laying people off are the epitome of self-interest; analogous to commandeering the life-boats: or

  2. They do not understand economics at all and thus have no idea of the consequences of their actions.  

Either way they emerge with little credit for there are alternatives to redundancy.

It was to convey and promote this message that I recently created my Alternatives to Redundancy website, with a free guide to illustrate the alternatives. Now, in the past week, my friend Alex Kjerulf has posted a practical example of those ideas. I urge you to read it, but as you do so, just remember that people whose incomes are dwindling need something to encourage them, make them feel their sacrifices are not in vain, and continue to give of their best. The Zealise approach, with its unique no-cost ownership, not only gives this, but builds a platform for the highest possible level of employee engagement and thus maximises the prospects for sustained, long-term success.

Please bear that in mind when you click here to read Alex's post. We have to do something if we are to prevent this recession turning into a full scale depression - and soon! We can all do our bit.

On Pioneeering and Prizm!

One of the joys of pioneering an innovative new concept like ours, is the opportunity it gives to connect with other people who are thinking 'outside the box' and 'pushing boundaries.' This provides a sort of metaphorical camp-fire which offers warmth and comfort, as well as the camaraderie and encouragement that develops as people share stories and experiences.

Often the stories have the same theme and story line, yet they remain fascinating for several reasons:

  1. They are like a serial or a soap-opera that is never complete; they keep the audience coming back to find out what happens next.
  2. They tend to be like those party games where one person starts the story and then someone else has to take it up and continue it. This is because every time the protagonist reaches an impasse, the audience chip in and say, "Have you tried this?" or "Have you tried that?  This all becomes very compelling, simply because we become personally involved and thus feel we have a stake in the outcome.
  3. The 'characters' - the concepts that are being championed.

As ever, the great stories, are the ones that have the best characters. Some are bland and, rather like a pet, only of interest to their owner/originator. Others are 'cute' and have people cooing over them because they are so good-looking and appealing. Yet others are like comic-book characters; they have enormous appeal for a very select group of people. But every once in a while, one comes along with the hallmark of greatness: a 'character' so revolutionary and grand that it is simply mind-blowing.

Well, I came across one yesterday, called "The PRIZM Game." This appears to be a relatively straightforward game that, in the space of anything from a few hours to a couple of days, can be used to develop the answer to any non-chemical or mathematical problem. Still in its very early stages of market development, this 'game' has already saved one company that has used it over £24 million in under two years.

What I saw blew my mind to the extent that I just cannot stop myself from telling everyone about it - and this after only a three quarters of an hour presentation. Obviously I am not best qualified to tell you much more about it, but I recommend you find out more for yourself by going to If you or your organisation are serious about innovation you cannot afford not to!