Most of the time it’s not the ‘unknown unknowns’ that are the major barrier to success. It’s the unknown or hidden knowns. In other words, the challenge is often a frustrating inability to bring into play all the expensively-acquired and hard-won knowledge, resources, relationships, insights and skills that your organization already possesses but, for whatever reason, can’t apply or reconfigure so as to meet a change in circumstances…
And that means that – contrary to much of the advice you probably get – the answers to your management challenges are very often not new capital investments, new systems, new training programmes or even new hires.
(It’s rarely the quality of the people you have hired: if they were keen and qualified when you hired them and they don’t seem that way now, maybe something inside the business is making them that way?)
Time to knock the clichés on the head?
You’ve heard all the generic management clichés.
To pick three of many:
- “Think outside the box”
- “Motivate employees by providing recognition”
- “Stay close to the customer”
This kind of advice is like the stock-market success formula “Buy low, sell high” – it’s not wrong, it sounds good, it’s just not much help:
- How do you foster ‘outside the box’ thinking? With ‘brainstorming’? By practising coming up with as many uses for a brick as possible in five minutes? Sending people to try to cross a river with three pieces of bamboo? And even if you come up with something, how do you translate it into practical results?
- You can’t ‘motivate’ people – they are already motivated (although not necessarily in the direction you would like!). Efforts to motivate people are often highly counter-productive.
- You can stay close to the customer, but the reality is that they often can’t tell you what they will buy in the future – they’ll just know it when they see it.
Generic advice will get you just so far…
The MBA syllabus is pretty standard the world over, and while it is good stuff, it’s probably the students who can read between the lines that get the most out of the material (hence the importance of the ‘case method’ in the top schools). Sure, in the right hands, box-and-arrow diagrams and 2X2 charts can still be illuminating, but the illumination is provided by the intelligence of the people in the room, not by rote application of the tools.
Too many management approaches assume that one size fits all. And, funnily enough, the more sophisticated the approach, the more this idea is compounded.
Our approaches start from a completely different view of the world of management, and we produce dramatic shifts using proven and principled methods for finding the local, idiosyncratic solutions that will make the real difference. These methods are based on a long tradition of pure and applied research – thoroughly documented but overlooked by conventional management ‘authorities’. Often, the shifts produced are worth substantial amounts, and can make the key difference between the success or failure of an endeavour.