Facing into the Challenges of 2023 – Part 1
If the start to this year has shown us anything, it’s that we cannot take anything for granted and plans can change in an instant. Prior to the brutal wintery (summer) storms we have had, there were already clouds hanging over our year driving concern and uncertainty. In the northern part of NZ this has only been exacerbated through people not getting the rest and recharge they needed after the hectic last few years.
To help support leaders and business owners, I thought I could provide some quick tips and tricks to maximise your opportunities for the year ahead, all based off our metaphor of the ‘Alignment Cube’.
As we know, running a business can be tough and when presented with environmental pain or opportunity, how we respond becomes critical. Firstly, whatever you do needs to be anchored in the strategy; one that responds to your operating environment, is created from the customer back and is clear around the tradeoffs, given you can’t do everything. This last point is key – what are your top 5 strategic initiatives, not the top 20 (numbers are illustrative) – because without focus you cannot invest in and resource the work properly.
With this clarity you then need to set your business up for success. It is not enough to focus on only one element; you need to be conscious of how we align all critical elements of our organisation – the culture, its leadership, how you structure the business, the processes/ systems that enable your work and how you support and grow your people. This is the cube metaphor – aligning each of these ‘sides of the cube’ to create an organisation best placed to respond to what is in front of it.
With this context, here are some quick thoughts on what I intend to be focusing on when leading our own business through 2023.
Work (Processes/ Systems)
1. Make the work repeatable – if there is one thing that has been reinforced with the flight of/for talent over the last 12 months it’s that businesses need to document their IP, getting it out of people’s heads so you can drive consistency and minimise risks
2. Design for the customer – while we talk about who we are in business to serve, it’s got to be about more than just talking up products or services. How will you ensure your processes set you apart, building them to truly meet customer needs and deliver exceptional value. Having been stuck overseas as a result of the recent Auckland Airport flooding, when working with the different organisations we needed to in order to get home, there was a clear distinction between those who thought they had client focused processes, and those that actually did.
3. Efficiency focus – all processes/ systems aren’t created equal, at times we need to over-invest in areas that will truly set us apart customer delivery-wise. Where you aren’t driving differentiation process-wise, ruthlessly prioritise your focus. Ask yourself - how can we design for efficiency, lowest cost and optimal outputs for this type of work?
1. Activities not People – when you are seeing talent leave your organisation it can be enticing to design roles around them to create opportunity. Be very careful because often they still leave and you are left with a confused model. I always work with clients to define the activities that are needed and to then frame up the roles – at that point only, you may need to make some tradeoffs around talent and appointment, but don’t start there.
2. Separate the Different Types of Work – I often see this issue in SME businesses, but equally it still occurs in larger organisations, and that is people being overrun with urgent work when they need to be focusing on the important stuff. When designing your business be sure to group the strategic activities together and keep them separate from the ‘necessary’, often efficiency focused work. By doing this it allows the former strategic work the impetus it requires if you are truly to get the step ahead you need during difficult market conditions.
3. True Empowerment – whether it was as evident before, I have certainly seen more leaders over the last 24 months get overwhelmed with ‘priorities’ and try to take on too much. If pain or opportunity is ahead, you need to be focused on the key activities your organisation expects you to be all over. As such, you need to ensure, right across the organisation, that leaders are pushing appropriate work to the lowest level possible - true responsibilities not just tasks. Obviously, this needs to come with support for the development of leadership capabilities and the provision of guiderails to support those now more empowered, but done well it will categorically lift engagement, enhance speed and mitigate cost.
Information and Metrics
1. Connect metrics with behaviours – is it the ‘what’ (the tasks) and/or the ‘how’ (the behaviours) that your performance appraisals, KPIs, OKRs, STIs, etc. really measure? Do you even have a contemporary approach? Some of the most powerful approaches I have seen are often the simplest, especially in a world with too much data. Create an approach that reinforces what you are trying to differentiate around as an organisation and avoid reinforcing what you don’t want (e.g. customer led not product out)
2. Make it visible – I was recently talking to an executive who said that the team she is on does not actively share key performance, financial and people data across the executive table - imagine how that plays out down through the organisation! As a business owner, as best as I can, I have looked to share information with the team, as it helps showcase our progress or lack of, so that everyone can focus on what should be changed. Whether the dotcom bust, GFC or Covid this transparency and openness has created an environment of shared ownership for the challenges ahead.
3. Clarity of measures – while listing some approaches above I have a genuine concern that some measurement systems are just not simple, trying to cover off too many things. The organisations I have seen who really rally during tough trading conditions are the ones who have a small set of tight, but comprehensive measures, covering outputs and throughputs, that drive leader and employee behaviours
Well, that is the first three sides of the cube done (Work Processes & Systems, Structure and Information & Metrics). READ PART 2 HERE