Coffee on the road: count the cups!

We had the pleasure this week of receiving a whole bunch of nice messages from clients and colleagues on reaching a milestone to which many a small business aspires – 15 years of work together!

It doesn’t seem that long until we take a look back over the kaleidoscope of projects that we have had the pleasure of doing – and the life events strewn in amongst those too.

In fact, now that we do that, it seems a great time for another cup of coffee!  Cheers all, and thanks for the good wishes.

Sabbatical postcard – lies, damned lies and statistics v2.0

ThinkEvans hit the key for coffeeWhat the numbers really say is an issue at least as old as published statistics themselves, but one finding a renaissance in the world of the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016: ‘post-truth’.*

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a commercial organisation knows, for example, that it is possible to have both massive growth in your sales numbers and a declining market share.  All it takes is for the firm to be in a growing market, meaning it can still lag behind the market’s overall growth rate even when it is going gangbusters – because others are going more so!

Not a few firms have fallen foul of the partial truth – sales are up, hooray! – by not enquiring about the rest of the picture – how much are sales up for the whole market?  And, I hear the accountants say, sales are different from profits so all that may be unprofitable growth anyhow – cue the cautionary tale about the long list of teams who got it wrong by thinking that they could somehow bank market share, only to churn heroic sales volumes and still have nothing much of anything to bank.

Our friends in nonprofits face similar struggles to report fairly the beneficial impact of the services they provide.  They need to engender further support through positive results, but without cutting the ground from under their own feet – perhaps by a too positive report suggesting the problem has thus been solved.

Here our hats are off to the prize-winning effort by the chappie from the UN who managed to report a vast improvement in deliveries of humanitarian aid in Syria – now reaching an average of 21% of those in need in 2016 as opposed to 1% in 2015 – framed by comments that were a polite but unmistakeable hint that there was just 80% of those in need still to be reached by the UN!

Runner up and receiving the award for best effort on ‘virtue in necessity’?  The team at Care International – their recent report on the ’10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2016′ was an imaginative approach based on a robust methodology and sound data collection.  Making a virtue out of the necessity of confronting the issues, the report included the observations:

Journalists … have a responsibility, given that the media has the power to set agendas, hold politicians accountable and help raise crucial funds to deliver aid.
This ranking is not meant to compare misery and suffering and place them on a scale; rather, each crisis and each human fate is unique and deserves all the support we can give [but these] have been neglected or eclipsed by others grabbing the world’s attention.
Each one of them is one too many.

Any decision maker worth their salt must be skilled in understanding and interpreting information – facts, truth, lies, damned lies and statistics – and there is just no substitute for doing your own homework on this.  Sure, get all the advice you want, but do your own thinking – in fact, get some advice that you don’t want and see if your thinking holds up to the test that contrary advice provides.

In the end, if we have any pretence to decision makers being accountable, this should include that they stand or fall on the ‘facts’ that they rely on in making their decisions – no matter whether that is ‘truth’, ‘post-truth’,’alternative truth’ or anything else.

So the task that persists for us all is to keep in mind the place of outcomes in accountability, and not let decision makers off the hook for that.  Nor give up leading by example to: embrace thoughtful dissent in the boardroom; welcome diverse and contrary views in any workplace that are expressed appropriately with maturity, respect, and actual information; and show self-discipline in sorting through an abundance of informational dross to find the nuggets of gold on which to rightly rely in our decisions.



*The OED says this is ‘an adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Coffee on the road – our word for the year

Big surprise – no, really, an actual surprise – our word for 2017 is not ‘coffee’!

This year we are going public with our choice to applaud all those mature decision makers who know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, and when to walk off into the sunset for the next challenge – the ones who can hear the clanging bell and know whether it signifies the start of the next round or the end of the game.

Our word is ‘enough’.

It is the word for all those leaders who know when they have given their best to a role and done what only they could do, and who then make a positive choice to move on to the next challenge, the next part of their own journey.

It is also the word for a business – and we are thinking especially of small and medium business here, that can’t help but have a narrower engagement with the marketplace – when their place in the market is overtaken by events and the time has come to reinvent the business, for example.

Years of working with teams facing change – some welcoming it, others not so much – provide us with a feast of examples on the genuine art to judging what the environment is saying.  Has the market developed new tastes or different dynamics that don’t suit your product?  Does the organisation – commercial or nonprofit – now more generally need other messengers or, indeed, other messages? Hearing the bell and calling the change might be the most important decision a leader makes.

Part of the issue is that there is always so much left to be done.  The grown ups recognise more nuanced questions – not just what is left to be done, but how best to do it well; not just whether they can lead that, but whether they should.

Of course, knowing when enough is enough battles against fear of the unknown, of what might – or might not – come next, always in tension with the truism that progress in part relies on taking risks – in a measured fashion certainly, but taking risks all the same.

There are always some happy to take the safe path – keeping a low profile against the light of review and accountability, letting ‘consensus’ provide cover for their choices, and using creative inertia to avoid standing up to be counted on new or different directions that are needed.

In other times, the worst that might bring is a leader becoming stale by staying past their ‘use by’ date, or a flat year from unimaginative answers to the usual run of organisational questions.

This year looks different though.  In 2017, if the early warnings are in any way on target, following that conventional wisdom just won’t be enough.

For leaders in government, business, nonprofits and the entire community, our crystal ball shows 2017 as a year when taking the ‘safe’ path might be the riskiest strategy of all.

Our word for 2017 is ‘enough’.

Hearing when enough is enough is always great leadership art.

‘Post-truth’ leadership art includes caring enough to dare enough in the decisions leaders make.

Coffee on the road – what a difference an accent makes!

Thin KevanWe might not be much given to knitting our own yoghurt or weaving muesli here at ThinkEvans, but we are pretty darn serious about sustainability.  For us its about being able to keep your promises to stakeholders – not just this week or next week, but next month and next year and the year after that, whatever your enterprise is there to do in the commercial or the nonprofit space.

But it’s not just a watchword in client projects – we walk the talk in our coffee habits too!  Several years ago we stocked up on this great little Aussie innovation, the KeepCup, with ours being all decked out in ThinkEvans finery.

Time has marched on and those are now hard at work in various client premises, and on the road around the world with like-minded colleagues who love their coffee but want to avoid creating trash.

Our Managing Director Carolyn may even have had one full of the life giving fluid on hand in Tasmania a couple of years ago – no doubt part of the reason that the headline shot of a Tassie lavender landscape came out so well.

In fact, we’ve enjoyed some great stories about where those cups went and what happened next.  The best one so far was from a recipient on an extended holiday with a group in Europe.  What a difference an accent makes!  Their ThinkEvans cups were so indispensable that rounding them up was a morning ritual, to the refrain of “Where’s ThinkEvans?”  That left their fellow travellers looking around for the missing person – someone who went by the name of Thin Kevan.

Tassie lavender slider

Sabbatical postcard – kawhe i runga i te ara i roto i Aotearoa

purple coffee swirl

Kawhe i runga i te ara i roto i Aotearoa – or coffee on the way in New Zealand – prompts fresh reflection on the microeconomic importance of engaging with fellow human beings.  In Wellington to present an element of my PhD research (to a symposium on the accountability of international organisations), I was struck by the strength and novelty of profit-making capacity in some very modest businesses, and the ingenuity of the decision making involved.

Travelling for work has provided me with a considerable diversity of ‘experiences’ – not least, for example, a whole gamut of ‘welcomes’ when checking in to accommodation.  Thankfully, a woman alone on a business trip can now expect a little more than ‘yeah, waddyawant?’, accompanied by a yawn or snarl depending on the time of day.  When travelling to all corners of the planet, one does not necessarily expect each greeting to rival the Savoy in London or Georges V in Paris.  However, it is great now to be shown something other than the suspicion, hostility or disinterest with which I was routinely greeted in the 1980s and 90s, when on business trips for the Royal Australian Air Force or Qantas Airways Ltd (meaning I hardly looked like a backpacker, a hobo or a ‘ne’er do well’ of some kind!).

So believe me when I say that the duty student at the Victoria University of Wellington last week set a new standard in pleasant and appropriate service – especially after being woken at 1am to let me in as a late arrival!  It all seemed a little surreal to be greeted with genuinely thoughtful assistance and information, and I’m pretty sure my perception was not unduly clouded by the aftermath of landing at Wellington. (The runway is not getting any longer and it still feels like the aircraft is landing across, instead of along, the runway – and that from someone familiar with the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong!)

Of course, I won’t say I was exactly surprised – a long career of travel in strange places is also a long experience of finding great customer service in unexpected places, including that a student, in their jammies no less, can surpass the standard of a concierge at a five star hotel.  Seeing the moves of an illiterate and innumerate market worker will do that for you – when, with less than 100 words of English and nothing of anything else beyond their mother tongue, they sell armloads of clothing goods to a crowd of very demanding tourists – who are then observably delighted in a dozen different languages.  Similarly – a nun may show more commercial acumen in running a modest hostelry than a bright young MBA does in marketing an internationally renowned hotel chain.

What was surprising to me was the extent to which this calibre of customer service experience prevailed, as I made my way around downtown Wellington over several days.  As a marketplace, it certainly has its own characteristics, features and peculiarities. There were international franchise outlets that were doing well and a few doing very badly, and there were (NZ) national and local businesses across that same spectrum.  Premium outlets were operating on a par with international standards, albeit not universally so, while price-oriented outlets were by no means as devoid of service as they could be elsewhere.

Overall, though, unless my microeconomist’s calibrated eyeball has completely malfunctioned from disuse due to PhD activities, the preponderance of outlets seemed to be thriving well by exceeding their clients’ expectations, whatever they might be.  Those that were not were doing very poorly indeed in marketplace of reasonably limited volumes (Wellington is only half the size of Canberra and a fraction the scale of Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland).

The distinction seemed to occur in the form of the ‘boss’ of the premises, for want of a better expression – all the more impactful because the premises were, on average, smaller than one would expect in a larger/more populous main city.  Whether a solo worker or leading personality in a team, if someone showed engagement and judgement about how best to solve the customer’s problem, even the casual observer could see that good things flowed.  Otherwise, it was very evident that they did not.

Sure, on site roasting of beans, organic ingredients for their snack range, and a great line in sustainable practices, made one local coffee house a magnet for the knit-your-own-yoghurt types.  But they were in the company of a much greater number of hard-pressed office workers clamouring for the life giving brew.  The fact that the quietly spoken barista also remembered the order of every regular customer was good old fashioned time saving, getting them in and out at light speed (aided and abetted by a colleague who was magic on the till) – and was clearly a factor in succeeding against lots of competition.

Where the person or team was slack, disinterested, misanthropic or just in the wrong job, customers closed their wallet and walked out.  Several mornings I was fascinated to watch people rush towards the ‘come hither’ aroma of a ‘fresh baked cookies’ franchise outlet and queue up.  That aroma would elsewhere be a licence to print money, but a goodly proportion of shoppers stopped only to frown and walk away without buying.  Observation revealed that slow service meant that shoppers had time to notice that they were standing in Lambton Quay’s ‘pigeon central’ and the staff did not seem bothered by the feathers blowing in to the shop or the impressive piles of droppings on and around their doorstep.  How well their profits would have been served by an engaged team member noticing this ubiquitous pattern of behaviour and actually doing something about it.

Compare that to the one person handling quite a crowd where shoppers were faced with a bewildering array of menu choices.  The outlet specialises in premium prepared meals for the harried worker to take home (commensurately priced – think Marks & Spencer’s M&S Fresh outlets in London).  One question (general, low fat, gluten free, budget or vegetarian?) got them a targeted menu card to peruse at leisure and allowed several customers to be served at once to a very evident high level of satisfaction, despite the premium pricing. (That one could teach most airlines a thing or two about ‘queue combing’ – the menu cards were more than half identical, but the customer was given the impression of tailoring and superior service even while they waited in line.)

A query later revealed that a team member had observed that if people took time to make up their mind they bought more, but when there was a queue they felt pressured to decide quickly and often walked away without buying because ‘there were too many choices’.  Rather than skinny down the options as they were advised, the outlet listened to this local leader and found a more thoughtful way to actually solve the problem, to the betterment of their sales – can you tell that this it made my hard little microeconomist’s heart beat faster?  (One wonders what it means for the ‘pressure selling’ school of thought.)

To my eye at least, the common factor is that each case shows that customers were still ‘real’ – not reduced to a line on a graph, or a percentage in a report – and that the person in question had discerned in context the crucial ingredients for making a sale.  The memory of an observant market worker using just a few dozen words of English to highlight answers to commonly questions about clothes – size, colour, fabric, cleaning instructions – resonated as I rambled around Wellington watching these service episodes unfold.

In particular, I very much doubt that our fresh baked cookies team could have described customer choices about their product in any meaningful way.  With an international franchise business model supporting them, no doubt they had all the details of standard staffing requirements, sales targets, and volumes of each and every variety sold.  However, they clearly lacked a crucial piece of local knowledge about actual customer choices, self-evident in the ‘turn away’ factor.  There to be seen by anyone who remembers that customers are actually people (not an amorphous ‘they’), what was missing from the picture was a leader in that outlet to take note and follow up with action.

So once more with feeling, we applaud these business ‘leaders’ (including those disguised as students and service delivery workers) without whose decision making skills their workplace would be, literally, the poorer.  As with our ingenious market worker and a commercially-astute nun (that story for another day), they are keeping the actual object of their endeavours in mind when showing thought leadership, a practice strongly recommended regardless of the activity or the nature of the organisation (commercial, nonprofit, government, whatever).

Sabbatical postcard – no time to wish for coffee

coffee warhol purpleA self-confessed cynic about process improvement, which too often fails from want of a clear objective, I am delighted to report a customer service experience that seems to shine as an exception. It was so fast and efficient there was no time to wish for a coffee while waiting in line for service!

The early indications were really not good.  My eyebrow was twitching upwards right from the off:

  • The service provider is an obvious bureaucracy that has been public about ‘rethinking its service approach’ – oh dear, read cost-cutting and probably worse service from horribly overworked staff, disgruntled by yet again being told to ‘do more with less’.
  • It involved a longer new process for the same result – again with the ‘oh dear’.  It awakened some unpleasant memories from the introduction of eTicket at Qantas nearly 20 years back – the first go around was going to require more time for check in.  Inheriting that untidy bundle from a (former) colleague I looked for a volunteer to stand up and be counted for the design.  As my newfound project colleagues lacked enthusiasm to own it, they rethought their approach to meet my objective – check in for eTicket must take no longer than with an old fashioned paper ticket (really not rocket science).
  • Then there was the delayed outcome – because it couldn’t be finished on the spot as the old process had been, the result would have to be mailed out. Really? In this day and age?  Even in a post-September 11 world that seems to complicate so many transactions, our desire for immediate gratification never gets any less and we expect technology to help us out, not get in the way.

Mmmm, the whole thing was looking underwhelming – that was “polite me”.  ‘Epic fail’, as the kids say, was more what “impolite me” was expecting.  So following the instructions I received by snail mail, I duly fronted up to the service provider to endure what could not be avoided, a grudge interaction which hardly gave them fertile ground for impressing their client (that would be me!).

About three minutes later, less time than it had taken me to park at the venue, I walked away having gone through nearly a dozen distinct steps in the process – including providing feedback gathered via sensible questions.  The staff were excellent and throughly well trained, each step made very effective use of technology (although the means of producing the final result was not in evidence).  It was so impressive I had completely forgotten my irritation about not being able to get the deal sorted on the spot.

I had also been able to satisfy my curiosity as to why I would have to wait for the outcome.  The technology for that step doesn’t respond well to pressure and has plenty of moving parts to fail, so they now use highly reliable tech to provide an interim result, which is more than sufficient until the process is finished and the final product arrives a few days hence.  The fact that the counter staff had been prepped with this info, and schooled in the appropriate manner in which to deliver it, highlights how well planned and executed the changes had been.

So, despite my low expectations, I have arrived back at my desk dead impressed.  Rather than the sadly typical result – plenty of bureau speak to set low expectations, which the project then fails to achieve – this set of process improvement initiatives has delivered.  What’s their secret?

Pardon me for the hobby horse, but it seems to me that they have taken the one parameter about which every single customer cares, and worked to that.  Put another way, they had a crystal clear objective and maintained focus on that, in what must have been a myriad of decisions to redesign the process end to end.  That they have done an end to end job is shown not least in the consistency of the messaging – in the snail mail that was up front about how the process would work now, and in how each potentially loose end was ravelled up along the way, consistent with that one overall objective.

And what might that objective have been?  The product is a low involvement, essential item for every adult with zero upside for a ‘better quality’ product, where waiting in a queue had long been the absolute magnet for complaints. Aha!

They had put focus on what caused delays, and then solved that – really solved it, not just thrown money at the problem and hoped for the best, or assumed that either more tech would be better, or that better tech would necessarily help the client achieve their objective.

Since the client need turns out to be something super sophisticated like ‘get it done pronto and don’t make me stand in line’, that’s been their service objective.  Instead of over-engineering that final step in a futile attempt to avoids delays (and investing heavily to not achieve that!), their approach was to take out the problematic step (tech that is prone to bad hair days), find an acceptable interim outcome, train the staff properly and make sure every customer is in and out very promptly indeed.  Have a consistent objective, a universal song sheet for staff, and then gather data that can be available quickly to demonstrate whether the objective is being achieved.

Ultimately, it seems to have turned out as a masterpiece of the appropriate use of technology for the overall customer result, not led by corporate navel-gazing uninformed by client preferences, or using more (or more expensive) technology for its own sake. Needless to say, this client loved it!

It’s a great parable for our collection about ‘have a clear objective’, on the shop floor and in the board room.

PS Our clients launching into customer service research have unfailingly been gripped by the cautionary tale about how not to lead the witness based on one’s own preconceptions.  Best example every time (also from the Qantas days) – the fact that ‘it was a terrible flight’ turned out to really mean ‘there was an endless queue for a taxi at Sydney airport’. In today’s example, the customer feedback questions were not exhaustive or even that sophisticated, but they were bang on target for finding out what they might need to change in the future – it tempts me to end with a smiley face!


Sabbatical postcard … coffee on the side road

coffee and pot 3bYears of consulting does develop fantastic time management skills – so being on sabbatical from consulting to work full tilt at PhD research, on accountability of the UN Security Council, still leaves time for a side trip to other aspects of my long, long standing work on decision making and governance!

For some months I have been collaborating as part of an eclectic group with common ground in the law of competition. Our project looked at the financial services industry in Australia – that project for the Centre on International Finance and Regulation culminated last week in the release of the project report.

This week, a working paper that I co-authored with project leader Rob Nicholls, entitled The Nature of Competition in Australian Retail Banking, was wrapped up as another project outcome.

Once more with feeling, the take away for me relates to the importance of both the means and the ends engaged in any decision.  For example, when the Australian Government’s then-Treasurer (and later Prime Minister), Paul Keating, in the late 1990s initiated the so-called ‘pillars’ policy for financial services in Australia, his intention was to ensure separation of the four largest banks and two largest insurance providers of the day.  His purpose was to maintain/engender ongoing competition in the market for financial services, and that seemed on point at the time.  Two decades and a(nother) GFC on, trundling on with the same approach now has the effect of entrenching the four largest banks in a very cosy oligopoly.  Even if they break no law:

  • Their business models are highly homogenised and product innovation is ho-hum, which hardly augers well for the role that banking plays in enabling the overall productive effort in the economy.  However, it also means that a problem in any one could easily be contagious for the other three, and the industry is so concentrated that even all the smaller players together couldn’t take up the slack if a major bank(s) had a very bad time of it.  Think in terms of how much worse the Ansett collapse would have been if Virgin had not yet been fully operational and able to ramp up rapidly.
  • Customers can hardly tell the difference between the ‘four pillars’  and, largely, can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of switching service providers, even in the face of very ordinary customer service.  This means that it is also difficult for any other player to get a good toehold in the market despite far better products and service, so absent some policy to engender competition what we’ve got is what we’ve got.

Looks like there is plenty more policy development work there for an enquiring mind, but the lesson is also there to be had for decision making in a business.  Is there a strong, evidence-based connection between the strategies adopted by your board and the outcomes that they seek for the enterprise?  Answering that question factually should be the first priority for any planning effort, and no ‘strategy love in’ should go ahead without that information – plus a commitment from the board as to the ends they seek, so that the most appropriate means can be engaged.

Cheers, Carolyn

Coffee on the (side) road …

CIFR Banking report cover 26 August 2015

On sabbatical from consulting and deep in the world of academe, in her guise as a higher degree research student Carolyn Evans has returned to her microeconomic roots – taking a side road on something of a busman’s holiday from the hard slog of writing her PhD thesis.

One of the co-authors of a report for the Centre for International Finance and Regulation (CIFR), Carolyn contributed particularly to the chapter on the nature of competition in financial services, and also to the chapter on facilitating competition in financial services.

Carolyn heartily endorsed the principal recommendations of the report – in particular, to do away with the so-called ‘four pillars’ policy in the Australian banking industry, and to facilitate better customer experiences by creating account number portability.  The report also gave serious consideration to the impact of crowd equity funding within the structure of the finance industry in Australia.

CIFR launched the report on Tuesday 25 August.

PS see also this related piece on The Conversation from October 2015:

Boring and protected: fifth pillar needed to get Australian bank customers moving


Sharna Wiblen Sisson, Consultant at ThinkEvans

Sharna Wiblen Sisson, Consultant


After more than five years and two children, we are delighted to congratulate Sharna on the conferral of her PhD.  Her thesis is entitled ‘Talking About Talent: Conceptualising Talent Management Through Discourse’.

Her research ’employs discourse analysis in order to understand how the concepts of “talent” and “talent management” are socially constructed within an organisational setting and the ways in which these are then brought into being and enacted [and] highlights that the meanings attributed to these often “taken for granted” concepts is not commonplace or self-explanatory, but rather that they come about via ongoing processes of negotiation within organisational settings.’

That one is soooo worth a coffee or two, and it’s our shout!  Congratulations Sharna on achieving this important career milestone.

Coffee makes planning go ’round

Carolyn Evans and Tanya van der Wall share our guide to keeping planning in perspective as a means to an end – all the coffee in the world won’t fix a planning process that doesn’t keep “eyes on the prize” of realising the organisation’s purpose.

Governance cycle management slices Copyright ThinkEvans SMALLER

Click wheel for a larger image

Three decades since Michael Porter identified the ‘lost in the middle’ problem, our hearts still sink on a regular basis when one board member says ‘we’re a premium provider, and we’ve got to deliver on that’, even as another is saying ‘we’ll fail if we don’t beat the market on price’.

Porter groupies would quickly explain that either a quality led strategy for premium positioning, or a price led strategy for mass market appeal, can work – but it is a rare day on which they work for a firm simultaneously, in the same market and for the same product.  More often, that lack of coherence in objectives leaves the organisation lost in the middle of the market, neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat, as the saying goes.

(And that holds true whether or not the organisation’s purpose is commercial. Think about a ‘not-for-profit’ enterprise in terms of being ‘not-for-loss’ – it must live within its means and still deliver on its promises to stakeholders.  Lack of focus and agreed outcomes is seen in over-delivering on some promises which unavoidably leads to under-delivering on others, including selling short future stakeholders as the organisation fails to put away reserves for the inevitable rainy day.  In fact this whole dialogue holds true, but we’ll keep expressing it for commercial enterprise in the interests of brevity and clarity.)

It is sadly common to see half the board or management team pulling for increasing quality and wanting to target the upper end of the market, even while the other half are pulling for cost reduction and heading for the mass market of more price sensitive buyers.   Tears before bedtime seem inevitable, whether the result looks over-the-odds for price-oriented clients (still too much price tag for what they get), or under-delivered for clients willing and able to pay for more (who get not enough outcome for the higher price tag).

Obviously, it is no help to anyone to have every board or executive meeting degenerate into disarray over such differences, especially since neither approach is inherently right or wrong.  Within limits, most markets offer opportunities for either strategic approach when done well.  But doing it well rests on a coherent story – whichever the organisation chooses – which must run from the board room to the shop floor, with all pulling in the same direction or any plan will likely go awry.

So our two part approach is to wax lyrical about the fundamental need for clear objectives based on clear decision making, and to provide practical help to formulate those objectives.  That help centres around this diagram and implementing the underlying approach in planning with our clients. (Click it to see a larger image.)

By the way, we definitely don’t mean “clear” in the sense of “everyone fall in behind and do it the one right way which I will now dictate” – the last refuge of knaves, scoundrels, decision makers who can’t spell ‘collegiate’ and those not equipped to properly chair a meeting of decision makers.

We mean “clear” in the sense of well-informed, openly discussed, and appropriately recorded (for later diagnosis, accountability and performance improvement).  And this kind of “clear” comes with a side order of “admittedly still subject to risk because this is the real world, not utopia or a management text book”.

What’s not “clear”?  It’s a dead giveaway when senior management meetings can never get past the first item on the agenda, and/or it’s the same item for endless meetings, or a board meeting features ‘I don’t think that’s what we decided’ as a regular chorus!

A big chunk of our approach is each participant knowing their role and sticking to the knitting for that role.  With so many boards including individuals who are also executives in some other place, this is more complex and difficult than it first looks (especially for the chair!).  But it’s undoubtedly essential – if one participant doesn’t play their part because they are playing someone else’s, then one part is left undone.  A board member delving into day to day operations, for example, isn’t carrying out their governance role – and perhaps then can’t because of their conflicted involvement.  A CEO meddling in board appointments (as opposed to simply providing information and advice as requested) isn’t being faithful to the outcomes for which they alone bear responsibility – such as making sure the staff and management team are what’s needed.

So at each step on the wheel, we are asking whose role is this and what outcome is needed, whether that was delivered and if not, what to do differently on the next cycle. Pretty simple, right?

Get a coffee, have a look and let us know your questions.