Tag Archives: management

The Inept Organization: Weak Leadership as the Culprit

by James D. Roumeliotis

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How often do you come across a company, either as a consumer or at a business relationship level, and realize how frustrating it is to deal with?

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is here that procedural decisions are shaped and executed. An entity’s leadership is expected to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth.
Moreover, there is a constant search for the “right” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

We notice that in certain types of B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted by “disservice” during their business exchange. Shortsightedness might lend itself to make this underhanded approach appear “profitable” on paper. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are not conceived with trust or respect.

Success Breeds Success

Companies that foster the right attitudes and strategies put the firm on track for success. Examining their corporate histories, you can witness a trajectory of growth. They have a tendency to dominate their markets and “win” through competent talent, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset within the leadership at the executive level. These choices underscore the prosperity and rapid growth of the institution. An examination of Google or Facebook shows this quite nicely. They are not built like “traditional” corporations nor do they act like them.

Organizational leadership is accountable for creating value for customers, employees and its owners/investors. When Bill Gates conceived Microsoft, he put the firm on track for providing constituent audiences with what nobody else could provide. Understanding “asset” management in an expanded meaning of the term guaranteed that Microsoft would succeed under Gates stewardship.

The opposite is equally true. When top executives lack knowledge or experience for board positions, they should not be promoted to these leadership roles. Some family owned firms run afoul here and this brings up the issues of sustainability and corporate governance. Another weakness in running an organization, in my view, is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. For example, with large organizations, competence is not the primary value but rather connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

No business can continue to prosper unless it attracts fresh and eager talent. Despite the dilemmas within the financial world, top organizations consistently lure new talent with lucrative compensation packages. It is easier for a firm such as Goldman to tap the “best” because of its reputation, size and success than a small local financial player.
When Goldman recruits they know where to look, whether it is Harvard or the London Business School. Prospects will already contain the seeds of the corporate culture in their past. Given the “right” conditions, new talent blossoms. Qualifications are never enough. They are a starting point reinforced by attitude and values. The selection and screening process is designed by HR to weed out inappropriate candidates.

Take the case of Michael Page, the global recruitment firm. Ever wonder when you pass one of their buildings on a Friday evening why the staff at the pub all seem to resemble one another, whether men or women? They were intentionally selected to match a model.

To give another example, Microsoft’s interview process includes quizzing candidates with challenging technical questions. This practice not only assesses problem-solving and knowledge ability, but also explores the ability to perform under pressure, which is a key skill required to succeed in Microsoft’s intense work environment.

One thing is firmly certain ─ the best-managed companies have “one” factor in common:
They are constant achievers in their respective industries. These companies exude managerial excellence. Financial performance is the result of this style of management. Consider companies such as Boeing and Under Armour, among others, which thrive and considered as “America’s Best Managed Companies” by Forbes magazine.

Deeds Not Slogans

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first year or two, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6/10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges daily to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:
• Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
• No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
• Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
• Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
• No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
• Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
• Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
• Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
• Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
• No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
• A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
• Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
• Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
• Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
• High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
• Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
• No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
• The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
• Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
• Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
• Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
• Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
• Lack or very little employee training & development.
• Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
• Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

Top executives need to be accountable to the ownership or Board of Directors – whichever applies, or at least to an outside arm’s length and neutral party such as an adviser who can also play “devil’s advocate” when necessary.

Good Organizations Matter

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. For its clients to receive stellar service, the firm must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Seth Godin, a renowned marketing strategist, stated succinctly: “If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring. When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine) then the caring can’t help but happen.”

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. A company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

In a nutshell: Well-run companies thrive no matter what by hiring the right people, taking good care of them, listening to customers and never ceasing to innovate and improve.

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The Short-sighted and Passive Business Leader: Reform or Descend

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Blindfolded Executive 

How often do we hear of CEOs who have been discharged for lack of performance? Contrast this with those whose Boards have kept them on the job despite controversy and/or inept leadership. The latter decision seems troubling. Consider Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and Mike Duke of Walmart amongst others.

It is my belief that the key issue here is organizational structure. Far too often, successful groups grow and get out of control. No organization should be too large. When it grows in size, inevitably it becomes overburdened and self-protecting. Incompetence is a guaranteed result.

The prime decision maker of the organization exercises a variety of leadership styles. Leadership is linked to personality. ‒ there is the empty, well compensated, well-tailored, neat and polite dapper boss; the absolutely lost and ineffective one; the barking, intimidating, eager for respect boss;  then you have the hypocritical and/or bipolar type ‒ one day treats you well, whereas, the next day treats you with utter disrespect. For the most part, there is the worship me and exceedingly charismatic kind in vast numbers who mostly got there because of that particular trait along with shrewd politicking each step on the way up.
What most, as described above, do have in common is incompetence. Despite all the act and ego stroking, in the end, they do what it takes to remain in their dynamic position.

Short term results at the expense of long term consequences

Shareholders and the Boards focus on quarterly earnings growth results. As a result, we often witness severely dysfunctional decision making with public corporate leadership. This includes irresponsible behavior, as well as lack of depth and vision. HP’s Board is a case in point. It has been notoriously dysfunctional in the ways it has governed itself which resulted in a spate of upheavals over the last few years.

There is tremendous pressure to perform in a short period of time. There are no silver bullets for quick results. Seeds need to be planted for the future and for the good of the organization.  Panacea creates decision making blunders which abound. At times it’s error in judgment and neglect. Every business sector is riddled with poor senior management. Here is a sample of some companies whose inept and/or negligent decision making have made headlines in unflattering ways.

–       KODAK: In 1975, engineers at the company introduced the first digital camera to its executives. Rather than embracing it, fearing it would cannibalize its lucrative film sector, the top brass asked that the digital camera be kept under wraps indefinitely.

–       WALMART: The company leadership has a long record of unethical behavior, from brutally exploiting workers to discriminating against women to bribing Mexican officials.

–       MICROSOFT: Its CEO has remained long enough in his position to wipe out shareholder value by falling asleep at the wheel rather than vigorously pursuing web and mobile based businesses which companies such as Google and Apple, amongst others, have remained ahead of the game.

–       JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Its former CEO who was employed at the company for 40 years resigned amid a series of missteps over the last few years of his tenure which damaged his and his company’s once sterling reputations. This included recalls of numerous over-the-counter well established drugs, including the largest recall of children’s non-prescription drugs, as well as medical devices. In addition, it was warned by the FDA about false claims it issued about its popular mouthwash, while another U.S. Federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, charged the company with bribing doctors in several countries to prescribe its drugs and medical devices.

–       ABERCROMBIE & FITCH: CEO Michael Jeffries’s snarl and insensitive remark that the brand’s apparel are solely targeted to the hip, slim, attractive and affluent “All American” teenager, offended many. As expected, it set off a storm of controversy. For someone concerned about his company’s image, the self-inflicted incident has damaged his and his company’s reputation. Even A&F’s investors are not pleased with the discriminatory statement which has negatively affected revenues and the stock price.

Organizational leadership is bestowed with the authority and accountability for creating value for customers, employees and its owners or shareholders. In spite of this, a significant weakness in running an organization is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. It’s my notion that the leader of many large multinational corporations, competence is not the primary value but rather the connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

The best-managed companies are constant achievers in their respective industries. They exude managerial excellence and financial performance is a reflection of capable management.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

Businessman with telescope

Identifying the shortcomings of incompetents

Regrettably, there are not many business leaders who make the cut. This includes those who also possess credentials from Ivy League educational institutions and/or oodles of charisma. A President or CEO grooming school doesn’t presently exist. Contrary to what many may think, there are no natural born leaders. In the past two decades, the average tenure of a CEO has halved. This is adequate proof how demanding the job is.

Our experiences and conditions shape who we are as people and as leaders. Leadership, like management, is not a science but a practice. The difference between the two, according to the late management guru Peter Drucker, is “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Telltale signs of poor leadership in an organization include:

  • in a state of denial about shortcomings – persisting with a dysfunctional status quo;
  • slow/delayed decision-making process;
  • lack of foresight for innovation;
  • short-term selfish driven decisions with no regard for long-term consequences;
  • no clear vision/strategy;
  • passive-aggressive;
  • unethical practices including apathy and lack of scruples;
  • irrational thinking/decision making;
  • an absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Chaos reigns amongst various internal departments which don’t function as a team;
  • narcissistic;
  • shielded from the lower ranking staff and the customer as he/she spends most, if not all of the time, behind the desk and perpetual committee meetings;
  • inflexible;
  • lack of transparency ‒ there is hardly any openness from management.

Anatomy of a competent boss: in search of sustainable leadership

A prime responsibility of leadership is the capability to constantly be one step ahead of their game, to envision what lies ahead, and in the process, be well prepared to lead the organization to great heights.

Effective leaders focus on long-term growth not short term decisions to increase or stabilize the company’s stock price. Furthermore, they should be open to ideas from lower level management not exclusively from their inner circle of “yes” men/women.

The following skills may appear as a list intended for a job description. However, they should be deemed a prerequisite for a leadership role regardless of the size or type of organization.

–       Bonds emotionally

–       Communicates well

–       Possesses character

–       Accountability

–       Humility, not ego

–       Foresight but with an open mind for feedback

–       Passionate

–       Can handle criticism

–       Tenacious

–       Articulate

–       Regard for people

–       Able and willing to delegate

–       Team player

–       Sales and marketing savvy

–       A disciplined and flexible individual who is not only open to change but a driver of change

Examples of highly effective business leaders who possess many of the above characteristics include Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Megg Whitman (HP), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Brad Smith (Intuit), Indra Nooyi (Pepsi), and Carlos Ghosn (Nissan), amongst others.

Public vs Private leadership ‒ and the authentic luxury enterprise

There is no doubt that the pressures and priorities of heading a private company differ as opposed to a publicly traded company. Different industry sectors may also require certain competencies.

Kellie McSorley, founder of SILK Search, the London-based boutique headhunting firm specialising in senior executive appointments in the luxury industry, explains the differences with the type of top executives sought in various sectors this way:

“For example, our Private Equity clients look for certain qualities in a person generally around urgency and result orientation whereas a Public company may place more value on other characteristics and competencies such as process, procedure and thought leadership. With Private companies there is a level of sensitivity and emotional attachment to the brand that any new hire absolutely has to understand, respect and harness, in order to succeed.”

Authentic luxury brands, on the other hand, operate by their own distinct rules as they do what it takes to retain their aura of exclusivity and cachet by focusing on production limits, premium quality and catering to UHNW patrons ‒ the antithesis of mainstream brands and products. For instance, Hermès has no need to deal with pressures of shareholders and stock analysts that are prevalent with corporate brands such as the LVMH luxury group. Instead, Hermès’ family stakeholders choose to keep the current business ethos along with their complete independence.

As for what the luxury sector desires in its future CEO, Ms. McSorley states this succinctly as follows:

“Historically C-Suite recruitment in Luxury was much more based on who you are, but now it is definitely about what you have done. Brands are looking for people with results, across industries, people that have proven themselves as key collaborators, innovators, people that can manage change.”

She further adds:

“We are noticing luxury brands really looking into other industries for both talent and inspiration. When you talk about digital, brands are looking to Google or pure play companies. In retail they are looking to hospitality for knowledge of customer service. Luxury fashion brands are also speaking about Apple when it comes to best in class service and customer engagement.”

Woman - Business Leader

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get.

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