CONSULTATION : People or Strategy – Which Comes First?

Q I have just read Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. He talks about making sure that you get the right people on the bus before you finalise your strategy. Is that right? I thought it would be the other way round.

A Jim Collins has been in the international top-selling business book lists for more than five years. The reason for this is that his work is based on 15 years of extensive research across wide range of organisations – which has enabled him to draw conclusions based on in-depth experience of what is actually happening out there. I guess his views can be debated at length as nothing is ever perfect.
However, his research shows that before you can do anything, you need to have the appropriate capability. If you make sure you have the right people on board with the level of skills and talent needed, then that mix of people will be capable of developing and delivering what is needed for your organisation. Not only that, but they will be self-driven and motivated.
Managers need to be very clear about this. If you have someone on board who is not right then that person will act as barrier to progress and will also impact people around them. In some companies nowadays it is quite normal practice for managers to identify and drop out the bottom percentage of low performers in the organisation on regular basis.
Organisations are comparable to living organism. You can only try and guide them and cannot necessarily dictate how they will behave. They tend to evolve based on their constituent parts. If you start with good raw material, that is make sure you get the right people on board, then the evolution will be healthy. However, if you don’t it will be stunted and the result will be low performance. Jim Collins understands this and recommends you get the right capability in place first and then let it grow and develop organically rather than by trying to make mediocre resources deliver what you want. Therefore, it is okay to break the traditional rule of strategy first.

Q I am the general manager of marketing for medium-sized manufacturing company. Over the past few years we have had an interminable series of organisation and strategy reviews. The result has been large expenditure of hard-earned money but nothing else. Is this normal situation or is there way of ensuring we achieve real value from this work?

A I agree it is very frustrating for you if you don’t see an outcome that delivers value from these reviews. Your board are the commissioners of these reviews and, while you probably can’t control what they are doing, you might be able to influence them with some real facts about conducting successful review.
First, ask yourself who is the owner of the review? Is it your board, your management team, or your customers? You say your board has commissioned these reviews but then leaves it up to the chief executive and the management team to make decisions about outcomes. If the board, as the owner of the review, doesn’t follow through then there is clear gap in ownership between the commissioning and the end result.
Second, look at whether the review has clearly defined scope and outcome. You have advised that past reviews have tended to focus on one of the major business streams of your organisation, whereas you believe the issue is the overall business and its future. Why is this happening? Are you on the wrong track and not recognising the reality of the situation or is your board being biased for some reason? This is critical issue as your review consultants can only focus on the brief given. If this isn’t targeted correctly, the output of the review will be useless.
Next, look at who is being chosen to be your review consultant. They must be able to demonstrate the necessary breadth and depth of experience to carry out the work. External reviews like this require high level of know-how and intellectual grunt – which you are more likely to get from the larger international consulting firms which have the range of work and resources that can develop robust consultants.
Finally, check who the consultants are being asked to talk to. I can say from experience of having carried out such reviews myself over many years, that the key people to get in touch with are the operational staff in the organisation. You will find that because they are at the coal face they will generally have very good understanding of what the issues are and what needs to be done.
Your question has no easy answer. However, you can check the latest review against these thoughts and perhaps may be able to influence its set-up for more successful outcome. Good luck.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

Visited 2 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window