3 Management System Categories - Summary

Management systems are often broken up into 3 major categories.

American, Japanese, and German. The U.S. style features frequent business restructuring and performance-based evaluation and pay. The Japanese version emphasizes harmony and lifetime employment with seniority-based salaries. The German system features consistent labour-management cooperation and employee participation in strategic decision making.

Leadership & Planning Lessons from the Army

Earlier today I attended a round-table session to discuss what lessons & insights the army’s approach to planning might offer commercial and government organisations.  The discussion prompted me to think about some of my experiences & learnings over the years – pulling together some my thoughts in this blog post.

I have always admired the army’s approach and dedication to developing leaders – its baked into their DNA.  From day 1 recruits are equipped with leadership skills and are given the opportunities to put these skills into practice – its something that most commercial organisations miss; focusing their leadership development efforts/budgets on the top couple of tiers of the organizational chart.

Lesson 1: Leadership is a verb and happens at all levels of an organisation – distribute your efforts/budgets across all levels of the organisation and focus on building/maintaining a leadership pipeline.

Everyone is empowered to exercise judgment & act – within some clear strategic intent and operational boundaries – to ensure the mission continues in the event of loss of key personnel, communications breakdown or other adverse event. Contrary to conventional wisdom the army does encourage soldiers to appropriately challenge the status quo. Too often corporations create decision-making vortexes reliant on individuals; creating bottlenecks that stall or paralyze decision-making. All soldiers understand the sometimes hidden cost of not making a decision in a timely manner.

Lesson 2: Empower people to act all levels of the organisation and eliminate decision-making bottlenecks – actively driving the devolution of decision-making rights. Make it safe for people to make decision provided they are based on robust judgment/thinking and within the parameters of the strategic intent and operational boundaries.

Everyone within the army has a clear career pathway – outlining what is required to progress through the ranks – and progress is clearly measured at every step of the way.  The right support structures and processes are in place to help everyone meet their growth ambitions & targets. The army is known for its Military Rank hierarchy, which denotes level of qualification, experience and competency – making it simple to see where everyone is in their progression.

Lesson 3: Career pathways and clear measures of progress are essential. Qualifications, certifications and accreditations are important. In my experience it’s the people who don’t have any that try to downplay their relevance.  Standardised mechanisms for measuring people’s progression and development are vital to ongoing sustainable growth of both individuals and the organisation.

Different armies use slightly different planning processes however they are all modeled off a common base of tried & tested frameworks and processes. This allows different armies to work together in overseas deployments and missions. The process includes not just the development of plan but scenario planning as well as active feedback from the field, based on the execution of the plan, to improve the next round of planning. Too many organisations adopt the ‘fire and forget’ planning approach – missing out on the opportunity to improve their planning capabilities over time.

Lesson 4: Use proven planning processes and ensure you take your plans through all stages of the planning process – including scenario planning/prototyping/pilots as well as lesson learnt for the next planning round. Maintain active dialogue with the front-line to adapt your plans and improve your planning processes.

People in the planning functions are cycled out of the planning function into field operations on a regular basis. This gives them a much clear context within which to plan and an appreciation of the on the ground reality of missions/deployments.

Lesson 5: Cycle people involved in planning activities out into the field. Too often corporate planning functions get stuck in ‘ivory towers’ producing disjointed plans & strategies.

I know people hold varying views on the army/military - in my experience these are often skewed by incorrect conventional wisdom and misunderstanding - however I think you’d be pressed to find too many other organisations that have invested so much into growing their leadership and planning capabilities. Most modern business planning methods and tools find their roots in the army/military. Commercial and government organisations can definitely learn some crucial lessons from the army.

APIs for Better Public Services

The Government Key Results Area (KRA) 9 Programme and NZ Tech hosted a workshop session to discuss the potential that APIs & access to backend government data might hold in terms of simplifying interactions with government, fostering innovation and contributing to better public services.

The workshop was attended by representatives from both government agencies as well as the New Zealand technology industry; in the spirit of looking for practical measures to accelerate progress.

We have been involved with KRA 9 & 10 for a while now and it’s great to see that the conversation as shifted from ‘should we’ to ‘how could we’ over the past few months. We have already started the adoption of the New Zealand Business Number.

The workshop session was facilitated – there was certainly plenty of active dialogue - and I left with some key thoughts & insights.

  • For APIs to be sustainable they need to be baked into the architecture of agency systems – not be seen as an ‘add on’ activity. Building your internal systems architecture around APIs just makes good sense and is part of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach – everyone knows the problems building monolithic software applications create.
  •  A mechanism – perhaps a ‘API Marketplace’ – needs to be put in place to allow government to understand the demand and priority for APIs & backend data access. Ensuring that resources are focused on the highest value items at all times – targeting the right problem or exploiting the right opportunity. The marketplace should be built on the principle of co-production between government and private partners.
  • An API equivalent of data.govt.nz is required (or perhaps the two can be combined?) to provide a register of API’s available across agencies. This could also be an opportunity to partner with other organisations (for example, Wiki New Zealand) on providing a standard set of interfaces/interface tools.
  • APIs need to operate within an eco-system (including both government and commercial partners) – including a clear consistent operating model, roles & responsibilities as well as funding arrangements. Stewardship is required to maintain quality, oversee the adoption of standards and ensure that changing demands/opportunities are considered and catered for.
  • Agencies needs to review their support mechanisms and structures in light of deploying API. Appropriate service levels need to be put in place – noting that often the publishing of API may shift agencies from 9-5 to 24/7 support models. This is another clear opportunity to work across agencies and even partner with commercial partners who may take on the support role (perhaps as service brokers?)
  • An ‘open by default’ approach (already being fostered by data.govt.nz and others) needs to continue to be the starting position for any API development. Ongoing work in the areas of information security and privacy needs to be accelerated to ensure that APIs are built appropriately and comply with legislation and appropriate use terms.

I’m a huge believer in the potential that public-private partnerships hold for growing NZ Inc and establishing New Zealand as leaders in the new Global Digital Economy. 

I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the KRA 9 & 10 teams to realize that potential and deliver real results that move NZ forward.

Candid Exit Interviews - Insights Into What’s Really Going On

I can never figure out whether it’s ego or naivety that stops people from having candid conversation with people who are leaving their organisation - its one of the best opportunities to figure out what’s really happening in your organisation and yet so few people capitalise on it or pay lip services to it.

Over the years I’ve taken the time to talk to lots of people leaving organisations to figure out whether they are any common reasons people choose to leave and what we can learn from their experiences.

Each situation is different however I’ve compiled a list of common threads covered in ‘so, you’re leaving - why is that?' conversations. In no particular order:

  • They didn’t feel challenged - smart people don’t want to be doing the same thing day in and day out.
  • They didn’t feel like they were growing - there’s always room to grow and smart people are acutely aware of continuous development/improvement
  • Their contribution wasn’t recognised - great people do great work but we’re all only human - they want recognition for what they have done.
  • They didn’t feel like they had a voice - clever people have clever thoughts, hunches and intuitions; they need to be given the space to act on them.
  • They didn’t see any real leadership - businesses don’t fail, products don’t fail, projects don’t fail, and teams don’t fail—leaders fail.
  • They didn’t get new responsibilities - clever people need space to spread their wings, keeping them confined frustrates them as much as anything else.
  • They felt shortchanged - often the employer didn’t live up to their commitments/promises. More often then not its about growth/development opportunities or training; it is almost never about remuneration.

So many of these things can easily be addressed through a candid conversation with people. Forget the political correctness - sit them down over a coffee (or even a beer) and ask the ‘so, how’s it going?' question.

And then listen; really listen and do something about what they tell you before they vote with their feet.