• Visibility in Leadership

    April 17, 2016 | by
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    “Be right, be wrong but never be in doubt.” That was piece of homespun advice given to me early in my career by an experience mentor. These words now resonate with me when I see in the Media our political leaders being criticised for being wishy-washy or not having a plan. Visibility in leadership is what people want.

    Clearly our communities are much more likely to support a leader who is not only capable and confident in their abilities but who actively demonstrates that positiveness in the sight of those who follow. The same rule applies whether in politics or in organisational management.

    Being right

    Strong positive leadership requires visible success. Identifying problems and finding effective solutions to them is the hallmark of leadership. Moreover it is essential that a leader be seen to develop a record of choosing the right paths to effective solutions as a matter of course. Trust in the leader’s good judgement is a significant factor in building confidence within an organisation to step out boldly in finding solutions for itself or more importantly actively and enthusiastically pursuing the direction laid out by the leader.



    If an organisation believes in the leader’s ability to continually make good and right decisions those decisions will be implemented with diligence. Even more importantly when the going gets tough and the leader must make difficult choices, the organisation will be more likely to demonstrate its confidence in the leader if there is a track record of being right in the past. This is especially so in the relationship between a Board and its CEO where a change of Directors can often signal a change of CEO based on issues of confidence in future performance.

    Ready to be wrong

    This is not a call to be knowingly wrong in making choices but signals a willingness to take some risks to ensure forward momentum. Obviously leaders who repeatedly make serious errors of judgement won’t survive long. But being highly risk averse is also a way to lose the support and confidence of the Board or your team. In most situations and dilemmas doing nothing is the worst of the alternatives available. Having assessed the risks, controlled those you can and judged the consequences of the others, more opportunities are presented by doing something, even if it turns out to be a poor decision, rather than nothing.

    If the risk assessment is conducted appropriately the degree of error will be minimised and in most cases easily corrected. Most people respect leaders who are prepared to have a go and risk falling short.

    Never being in doubt

    Of course all leaders experience times of doubt, especially when the alternative courses of action they are presented with offer unpalatable prospects on all sides. However the visibility of good leaders in such circumstances is high and all eyes are on them in expectation. Presenting a personae of uncertainty and confusion does not instil confidence in the team, customers or the community but sparks rejoicing and mirth in competitors, rivals or opponents.

    Demonstrating confusion and uncertainty is the quickest way to lose the support of followers as recent opinion polls in political circles indicate.


    newspoll 4.16Confidence in leadership

    The issue is really about a leader’s ability to display confidence, well-founded confidence in all situations. Great leaders whether in the military, commerce or government always project an assured and confident outlook even if they have some niggling doubts deep down.

    This is especially important when the team or followers have significant lack of confidence in themselves. Confidently led teams can achieve far above their innate abilities through the inspiration of a visible leader in their midst.

    Being there in the thick of the melee is an essential element of leadership in tough times. The capacity of a leader to rally the troops when disorder seems imminent is underpinned by the extent of confidence the followers have in that leader’s ability to do something special.

    When that special thing happens they will follow their leader rightly or wrongly – but if the leader falters the followers flee. How well Shakespeare penned that tenet in Henry V’s rousing St Crispin’s Day speech.

    [Featured image = Laurence Olivier’s renowned 1944 portrail]


  • Frank and Fearless Advice – A thing of the past?

    December 18, 2015 | by
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    Yet again debate has risen over the state of relationships between elected officials and organisational management in the public sector, and the resultant fallout from rising tensions. This time the Queensland Auditor General has highlighted concerns at the increasing tendency of professional advice from local government officers to be compromised by fear of termination of employment.

  • Business Process Improvement – That’s the PITs

    November 2, 2015 | by
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    Business process improvement is not a new concept. The methodology outlined in H. James Harrington’s 1991 book of the same name was the starting point, but in the nearly 25 years since it was published numerous styles, techniques and tools have been developed to increase the value of the concept to organisations.

    Some key attributes however remain at its core, the principal element being the use of business process improvement teams or “PITs”.

    What is a PIT?

    The traditional top-down approach to identifying business process problems and directing solutions from senior management are now being replaced by an approach incorporating the establishment of a specific team, usually multidisciplinary, recruited from supervisory and operational levels of the organisation with a much closer exposure to the problem area.

    In this way the problem can be analysed under the sharper focus provided by individuals with a more intimate knowledge and understanding of the component parts and processes that deliver the current business outcomes.

    The target of the PIT’s attention might be reducing process times, labour costs, waste, defects or unit production costs. It could also involve increasing productivity, product quality, customer service satisfaction or even better beehive management.


    Advantages over the top-down approach include:

    • Suggestions and ideas are generated from the workface rather than imposed from “the ivory tower of management”. This creates a sense of ownership and enthusiasm in the execution of initiatives which results from the team’s work;
    • Improvements that are easy to implement can be quickly identified resulting in immediate activation of better process efficiency;
    • Teamwork is emphasised and employees feel valued;
    • Those working closely with the issues and problems have a part to play in identifying the solutions and have a vested interest in seeing the issues resolved.

    Attributes of successful Process Improvement Teams.

    Merely recruiting a team of people closely associated with the processes or procedures encountering difficulties or in need of revitalisation is not enough to ensure success. After all if these individuals had an innate capability to identify and resolve process issues one would assume they would have done so already.

    The keys to successful PITs include:

    • Assembling a team that is knowledgeable about the process to be reviewed but diverse in their thinking styles. The team should comprise a variety of skills including process experts, representation for any relevant upstream or downstream suppliers and customers and preferably should include one or more members who can offer an independent but informed viewpoint on options that may be presented.
    • Constructing the team to be sufficiently diverse to balance the various strengths and weaknesses of individuals not only in the technical aspects under review but in terms of group dynamics.
    • Appointing a team leader familiar with the process and experienced in managing projects andproject meetings. The team leader should also be familiar with process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma and available analytical tools.
    • Ensuring the team size is manageable so as not to limit the ability of individuals to participate, including arranging meeting and work schedules so that all team members can participate and are not constrained by conflict with other work commitments.
    • Setting clear expectations as to participation and commitment to the core purpose.
    • Providing relative autonomy in determining the search parameters for solutions to problems, including creative or innovative approaches, that do not clash with the organisation’s basic objectives and philosophies.
    • Resourcing the team sufficiently to be able to pursue research and analytical activities aimed at the problem solving.
    • Providing management support and encouragement by regularly showing interest in the project and receiving reports and briefings on progress.

    Business Process Improvement

    How to use PITs to best advantage.

    The team should be engaged from the outset in helping set the project definition and charter together with the setting of intermediate goals, timelines and general research methodology.

    It is important to leverage the dedication and enthusiasm of team members by acknowledging and rewarding progress so as to:

    • Maintain and increase morale and a sense of accomplishment.
    • Mentor the leader and key contributors in constructive debate on improvement options
    • Encourage the quieter members of the team to speak up and be more actively involved.

    Management’s interest should also be directed to ensuring that silo conflicts or professional competitiveness does not impede the collaborative work of the team, or that any particular partisan view held within the team does not dominate to the exclusion of other valid views.


    Setting teams up for failure should be avoided by clear agreement as to the terms of reference, goals, scope of tasks, resources to be assigned, targeted delivery date and expectations as to reporting on progress. In other words good project management practice should be adopted.

    Where skills within the intended team of supervisory and operational staff may be limited in terms of process improvement methodology, options should be explored for specific training to be given to the leader and team members or engaging an external facilitator to help manage the structure of the search for improvement, without impinging on the technical strengths of the organisational team members.

    Whilst constructive critique of the PIT’s work is essential, of greater importance is senior management’s willingness to embrace team initiatives – even to the point of allowing for mistakes in the course of pursuing robust solutions. Keeping the team focused on the main issue and seeking out the root causes of process defect or underperformance is critical, so that their efforts are not merely directed to treating symptoms rather than causes.

    Requiring a certain amount of discipline in the adoption of a structured approach to the PIT’s enquiries will ensure good habits of scientific problem solving and documentation which is essential for those who will be required to implement the solutions or improvements that result.

    Once the improvement process is operational celebrating team success should be high on the list of management priorities.

    Reinforcements can help you establish and manage your PITs to best advantage.

  • Do it once, do it right – The cost of re-work

    July 13, 2015 | by
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    The infamous Wyatt Earp is reputed to have once said “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Time and energy are precious commodities today – so it is that the cost of re-work is a significant consideration in organisations especially where tight commercial timeframes or statutory deadlines are critical to compliance or cashflow.

    The problem of costly rework is not confined to the factory production line or the construction site. There are many commercial and public sector organisations who face similar problems associated with  sub-standard execution of work involving such activities as research, report writing, analytical tasks, simple transaction activity and service provision.

    What is the cost of re-work?

    It can be as simple as getting the order wrong in a coffee shop. One instance of having to throw away an order of toast because it was served as white bread when the customer ordered wholemeal may not seem a big issue. But when it happens many times over, the cost moves from a few cents for the bread to lost business because the customers move to another coffee shop where the orders are filled correctly each time every time.

    Poor-ServiceFor organisations struggling under resource limitations every analytical report that must be rewritten or edited because of defects in assumptions or poorly written communication consumes valuable time and energy that could be better used moving on to the next priority. The consumption of managerial and supervisory time in detailed checking of the work of subordinates owing to a history of errors, is a significant drain on the real purpose of leadership of the organisation. 

    What can Managers do?

    Most organisations don’t have a disciplined means of measuring the cost of re-work, especially in its “softer” forms. It is amazingly deceptive just how much productive time is wasted in revisiting work that is poorly executed in its original form. If as a manager you could gain an extra half hour each day by not having to check or correct the work of others – how much more could you achieve?

    What can you do to claw back that unproductive time?

    • Set and communicate required standards
    • Train staff in required standards.
    • Regularly provide update and extension training
    • Ensure supervision is close and focused, enabling and not just criticising
    • Provide a workplace environment that is conducive to productive activity and free of distractions.
    • Don’t keep changing the rules or directions.
    • Don’t expect performance above capability
    • Promote continuous improvement
    • Require accountability for gross failure of work quality

    What can Supervisors do?

    Staff gain confidence by achieving difficult objectives, but need support and guidance to hit the target. The organisation’s Supervisor level is incredibly valuable in this respect, providing the individual mentoring and coaching required to minimise mistake repetition and to build toward error free capability.

    • Use templates, models, precedents to assist benchmarking performance
    • Measure progress and provide constructive feedback
    • Firmly address repetitive poor or sub-standard work
    • Provide examples from own experience
    • Allow some slack for learning from mistakes ..but ensure learning takes place
    • Avoid confusing or unclear instructions.

    What can employees do?

    The cost of re-workBeing self aware is the best possible approach an employee can take to contributing to work error prevention. In other words understanding the objective of the task before them, the criteria that will determine its success, any aspects of the work environment (including information availability) that might prejudice the employee’s capacity to complete the task correctly and any personal limitations that could compromise its quality in terms of the basics of accuracy, timeliness, relevance and completeness.

    In addition employees should:

    • Acknowledge errors and seek constructive feedback to enable active learning.
    • Embrace continuous improvement and quality procedures
    • Ask questions and seek clarification rather than taking an uneducated guess in new situations
    • Never think “near enough is good enough”
    • Never sacrifice quality for speed.

    What tools can we use?

    ToolshedThere is an old saying that “The Manager is the most expensive tool in the workshop”, meaning that the more time the Manager spends intervening in the operational aspects of the business, the more overhead is consumed by lower order tasks and the less value is added to the business development end of the chain.

    The best way to apply the intelligence of the Manager to the business processes without requiring the Manager’s actual presence is to implement systems that provide that oversight indirectly, such as

    • Quality checklists.
    • Workflow technology that monitors key criteria.
    • Suggestion programs to enable staff to contribute to better processes and procedures and add their own experience to the quality development.
    • A database of known or possible errors and helpful hints for avoidance or rectification can help as a reference or quality checklist.

     In Primary School our Manual Arts teacher tried to inculcate us with the maxim “Measure twice, cut once” as the golden rule of reducing waste and errors in carpentry. Conceptually that rule is still valid in all forms of employment, career, indusrty, commerce and government. Do it once – do it right.

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