By Christopher J Tipler
Management today is tough, or so it seems. So little time, so much to do, so many pressures! We react by working harder, longer. We take work home. We talk to our peers but they are also under the pump. We search the latest business books for clues and read about who did what to become great, or about the seven habits and the six steps. Some of this stuff helps a bit; most doesn’t.
So, let me try to lighten your burden by telling you, in about 800 words, how you can get some real traction. My advice applies whether you are a CEO of a large business, the owner of a smaller one, or a line manager, and it comes with a promise based on 30 years of top management advice: step through the doors that these keys open and I promise you will be much more effective, you will have a simpler, better, business and you will enjoy your work more.
Key 1: Start thinking and acting like a money-maker
Effective managers know that making money is not complicated. There are only four drivers – sales volume, margins, overheads and assets. Just four, irrespective of the nature or size of your business. So, strip things back to the financial basics and look at your business through this lens. You can construct the simple ‘return on assets’ tree diagram to show the four drivers then look for the leverage points and work on them. Money-makers also know how to translate this knowledge into the financial outcomes that shareholders want – good return on shareholders funds, consistent earnings per share growth and appropriate gearing.
More than this, money-makers understand how their strategy drives the numbers over time. This means that they have a clear medium-long term strategy and they can see, and measure, the financial implications of the main strategic initiatives. To do this, they ensure that the annual budget reflects the strategic priorities rather than hiding them in ‘functional’ reports.
Key 2: Adopt the right attitude
Effective managers are ‘nice wolves’. They have a combination of ‘mongrel’ and pleasantness that results in an effective attitude. This attitude is characterised by four things:
- They expect the water they are swimming in to be rough rather than smooth, so they don’t see themselves as victims, they don’t complain, and they enjoy the constant challenge of uncertainty and difficulty. They find a way
- They are restless and always looking for the sharp edge where things need to happen or can be made to happen. They welcome courageous conversations, and you might hear them ask ‘what is the conversation we are not having, but should be having?’ You will also hear them testing everything, often using the question ‘so what?’ – why is this information interesting or useful, what is the significance of what you are saying?
- They focus on what their business is doing and how it is doing it, not on what others are doing. They have little interest in competitors or case studies – they left all that stuff behind at MBA school (if they ever bothered to go there)
- They know that leadership is not some sort of black art; it is mainly method and attitude. These things are not innate; they can be learnt and the money-makers practice them relentlessly.
Key 3: Dump the clutter
Money-makers don’t allow their agenda to be hijacked by clutter. Here are some of the things that need to be dumped:
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I have written previously about this (June 2). Suffice to say that CSR is a time-consuming, ineffective paradigm; a poor substitute for a strategic approach to sustainability
- Values. Money-makers understand that values are a result of behaving in a certain way and setting them as goals is to name the wrong god. That’s why values statements have such a hollow ring to them. Money makers concentrate instead on capability as a central dimension of strategy; then values take care of themselves
- Complex meeting agendas and reporting. Money makers keep meetings to a minimum and strip the meeting agendas and reports down to the essentials
- Long lists of things to do. Long lists don’t help; rather they are demoralising. Watch effective managers at work and you will see them focussing all the time on the two or three really important things
- Most of the stuff on your desk. Money-makers don’t automatically assume that they have to action the things that land on their desk. Rather, their first reaction is ‘who will I give this to?’. They are good delegators.
Christopher Tipler is a Melbourne-based management advisor and author of Corpus RIOS – The how and what of business strategy. His web site corpusrios.com contains more material on this and related topics.