Tuesday, 16 January 2018

"Gut" or Plan?

The “Action Imperative” – the need to “do something” - is something that we will all have experienced.  Our society demands “action”, Winston Churchill’s catchphrase in WWII was “Action this day!”.  If one is not see to react immediately to various events or stimuli, one is considered lacking in initiative or drive.

When our “action” works out well, we get the glory; when it doesn't, we either try to forget it or get criticised by others. 

Startups and corporate projects are fertile grounds for “action”.  The new excites us and can even act as a drug (after all, we’re “doing something”).    This is why one can see many busy (but few productive) people in the workplace. 

Because of the need for “action”, we face the “I haven’t got time…” syndrome.  We all have multiple tasks to carry out, hundreds of emails to answer, meetings, conference calls… and often “no time to think”. As a result, things may not receive the attention or consideration that is needed to avoid potentially serious consequences. 

A recent example is the decision to require passengers to pack their laptops in check-in baggage as terrorists were supposedly manufacturing explosive devices designed to look like laptops.  The rationale behind the decision was perceived by safety experts as flawed because laptops run on lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride batteries which can overheat.  If such a device catches fire in an aircraft cabin at 35,000 feet, cabin crew can do something about it.  If it’s in the cargo hold where no one can get at it, catastrophe can be the result.  In the end, the ruling was rescinded, with passengers now required to take laptops out at airport security checks and turn them on to prove they work.

Technology has only served to exacerbate the problem, with people expected to be “online” 24/7.  When I first began my professional career, email didn’t exist, so communication was by letter and memo.  These had to be thought out and (perhaps) dictated, allowing additional time to think.  There is an expectation amongst some that emails should be answered immediately.

The result of this is that, instead of considered responses, we end up relying on that part of our brain (the “limbic” part) that we use when under stress – the part that works on emotion (“gut”) rather than thinking things through.  Some call this the “fight or flight” response.  When Cro-Magnon man was a hunter-gatherer, this instinct served him well, and it still has its uses in certain situations in the modern world.  However, if a “fight” reaction occurs at the wrong moment in the business world (and one only has to look at the behaviour of certain world leaders for examples…), this can have disastrous consequences.

The conclusion?  We need to have a clear understanding of our business environment and its attendant risks.  For this, we need to think.  Thinking finds new (and possibly better) solution, but requires time.  If we understand our environment, we have that extra time to think things through, even if there remains a degree of uncertainty.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Follow Up!

If there’s one sure way of losing an opportunity, it’s through not following it up. 

We all attend meetings, or meet people unexpectedly and an opportunity comes up at that exact moment to make something happen.  Five minutes later, as we part company, we’ve already forgotten what is was that we agreed to do, or remember it too late a week later by which time the lead/opportunity/chance has disappeared.

One of the phrases I dread hearing is, “We’ll call you back,” (I’ve written about this in previous articles).  It’s happened to all of us, but how many times as that person actually done what they said they would?

In the end, it’s a matter of personal perception: do we want to be known as someone who doesn't follow up?  How will that affect our ability to develop new business, close a deal or get things done?

Now for the hard part: to do this we need discipline.  In my case, it’s usually writing down what I need to do, and then scheduling time to do it.  I find the best time, for example, to write minutes of meetings is to do it as soon as possible after the meeting when details are still fresh in my mind.  I schedule an hour after the meeting (if possible) to get this done.  The sooner I do it, the clearer my recall of events is and the faster I can get it done. 

If I attend a meeting, I will note down action items delegated to me (or which I agree to undertake) and get on with them as soon as I can after the meeting.  They go into my “ToDo” list on my PC (which also links to my smartphone and tablet) so I can keep them in sight until they're done.  I’ve waited up to three weeks for minutes detailing the same items, so that time is lost unless I’m proactive.

Good business people don't sit still – they’re always moving forward.  A bit of discipline and planning means any of us can do the same.


 I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Friday, 29 December 2017

Audits – A Risk-Based Approach

I used to work in financial services.  Given the importance that most people attach to their money, it’s no surprise that some banks have very strict internal audit procedures which are often more intensive than the annual audit carried out by external auditors as part of the preparation of the year’s financials.

When I started in finance, audits consisted mainly of auditors coming around with checklists.  There was little effort made to understand the nature of the business or its market(s).  Either you were doing it “by the book” or you weren’t.  There was little or no appeal, even if the audit recommendation patently didn’t make sense in the particular environment.

Fast forward twenty years and I’m delighted to say that things had improved.  The Audit Department had realised that some recommendations were likely to add costs and/or result in lower levels of customer service and impact the bank’s reputation. They wouldn’t compromise on certain aspects of control (and rightly so), but there was more effort to understand the particular business and to appreciate that not every branch (or, indeed, country) worked in the same way.

The result was that branches, areas and even countries were classified as higher or lower risk and, as a result, received more or less frequent visits from the Audit Team.  Auditors became advisors where they could without being conflicted by their duty to report honestly, but the net result was a team effort to identify where potential risk lay and deal with it before it became a problem.

The “Risk-Based” approach is the logical way to approach any situation where control and standards are required.  Although civil servants passionately believe the opposite, not every business can be slotted neatly into little boxes.  Even government is probably an area in which you don't always need to “do it by the book”, as we have seen plenty of examples of decisions that patently made no practical sense, but which followed the rules (and therefore protected whichever functionary took the decision).

Similarly, mass production, where producing lots of items at the same time and to the same standard, may also be a candidate for “doing it by the book”.  However, even this can change, as countless examples of “Kaizen” have shown.

There’s no harm in changing “the book” if it results in a better audit and more secure operations, or better quality production.  What hurts is not to want to change it because it’s “the book”.  How many of us are willing to step up?



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Thursday, 21 December 2017

Teamwork

Have you ever been in a situation where things just seemed to “go right” for a team?  Everything went the way it should have done, people completed tasks on time, the result was what they wanted…?

This is teamwork at its best, but to understand what it looks like “in action”, we sometimes need to see the “pros” at work.  Two simple examples help here.  The first is to watch any top team playing in an international rugby sevens tournament.  clip from the 2017 Hong Kong Sevens tournament shows how a small team of players rely on each other to score in a fast-paced game.  They’re always in the right place when needed, they look for alternatives when their path is blocked and they can put on a burst of speed to outpace the opposition.  Their moves and passes are timed perfectly and have clearly been practised a number of times.

The second example shows the famous “Gun Run” and the UK Royal Tournament.  In this, although they all start together, team members have individual roles which may involve them moving ahead of their mates to set equipment up before the others can use it.  Everyone has their place and, if they're not there when needed, it can lose them the race.

Some ask why playing team sports is seen as useful when applying for jobs in the corporate world.  The previous clips show the answer, as we need to know what the team’s objective is, our place in it, practice doing it well and then being there when needed.  Ego and seniority don't enter into it.  If the most senior member of the team doesn't perform, the whole team may lose and it’s not a case of passing the blame. 

We can get so wrapped up in our own “area” that we forget that others depend on us.  When they complain, we react negatively, but how do we react when someone lets us down?  “Accounts didn't process the invoice in time…”, “HR didn't approve the (whatever) request…”, “IT didn't apply the patch…”.  We find it easy to blame others (and it may even be the case that it was their omission/delay that caused the problem), but are we beyond reproach?  Do we practice doing things the best we can or carry on the same old way because no one seems to notice?  Could we arrange a meeting to find out what’s holding others back, or if our team needs to get information to them earlier?

Teamwork, particularly with other departments, means constant interaction and understanding of the other’s needs, as well as our own.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610. 

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