The Business Doctor

'eradicating the Mad Management Virus'

Friday, 15 January 2010

Can/should business schools survive?

In his 22 years in business, Professor Bones recently commented, “At their best, business schools are critical friends who hold up the mirror, they provide thoughtful, talented people who do the right thing not just for themselves and their organisations but also for the wider communities in which these organisations exist,” he says. “Too often however, perhaps in the face of the economic pressures we all face, they act as cheerleaders for organisations who represent poor business practice and the people they produce are self-centred, egotistic and over-confident in their own abilities.”

At the heart of all good business schools is the MBA. Now I do not believe or indeed claim that the UK or US MBA model with a common set of foundational elements is at the centre of the global crisis in business, but I do think it’s dam close to it.

The needs of MBA students and global business leaders are all quite different, and the skills necessary for success are subject to evolution, organic change, passion and human messiness. A criticism I constantly aim at all business schools, has been their inability to change from teaching 'stuff' which is at best outdated, and at worse downright wrong for the 21st century, rooted in an undifferentiated, outdated core curriculum, delivered in a staid, stiff academic style separate from the real world.

That being said, yes there is a need for a foundation in business skills, such as profit/loss accounting etc. However at the core of all educational programmes should be ‘critical thinking’ ...and I would argue that in addition to this, we need to emphasize creativity, agility, and, above all, context to show how most of the systems are based in serendipity not strategy.

It used to be that most MBA students would be in their late thirties, experienced and in employment. The MBA program should focus on fusing the art, thinking, and technology of businesses full of human ‘mess’, who can think systemically, rather than functionally, and who are adept at just one thing... leading people...

The problem is today that most business schools or MBA’s, as its quality product, do not help industry or key members to sustain their organisations. To be honest, I would question whether an MBA is even seen as the pinnacle of management education in the US let alone the UK.

I’m sure programmes such as the Harvard MBA hold greater kudos, but clearly in the US the MBA is the established management qualification, unlike in Europe, where there are undergraduate and masters programmes as well as MBAs and executive education. But all this is simply ‘image’ and PR spin. The elite schools don’t necessarily offer elite education, and indeed I have seen a number of small programmes from supposedly ‘lesser’ institutions provide immense educational value to its students.

Over the past couple of years, and even more so the past few months, I have seen the manufacturing arm of the economy not on its knees but now flat on its belly, crippled and begging for mercy. We now need risk-takers and risk-accepters, not planners, analysts or structure creators or tool heads.

An MBA education should be an experience, a way of unique thinking, that changes the way one addresses problems and develops solutions. It’s an experience that teaches a person about themselves more than anything else. Indeed good business schools don’t build character, they reveal character. A leadership character which allows each individual to use their way to communicate values, how to gain consensus, how to give and accept constructive criticism, how to appreciate and support various talents and enable those talents to shine, how to understand one’s own limitations and encourage democracy at every threat, turn and success.

This learning is difficult if not impossible to “teach” in individual technical courses. Properly educated MBAs should deal with all of life’s issues in a more complete way. So indeed, should the business school itself. Times are changing... business schools need to alter their ways now, or they will be doomed.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

What's wrong with work?

Especially now when things are tough, leaders, elected into their positions by frontline staff, should be trying to create a sense of momentum, enthusing people who feel less than positive after Christmas. With the CMI reporting recently that over 8 million people had sleepless nights thinking about the return to work. I still keep asking myself - ‘What’s wrong with work’? 
Okay, most of us might rather be on a sunny beach somewhere, but when you really consider that ideal, many of us also actually enjoy work, and the beach would become a little tedious after a while.....wouldn’t it?  It might sound sad to some but work defines us, provides us with a  sense of worth and purpose and indeed we like it for the most part.

What matters for me, far more than the niceties of traditional HR practice/theory, methods of appraisal, coaching tools etc., is simply being open, passionate, caring, listening to others goals and generally helping progress, regardless of how slow it might be to begin with.  These are surely amongst the most important activities for Leaders when times are tough, so that we all work together for a common, shared goal.

We should embrace the mentality of the Joker in the last Batman film where he says, “You will never beat me, as I don’t follow the rules..... you have to follow them as you created them”.... this is Chaos theory in its simplest form. “If you can’t beat em, don’t join ’em, change the rules of the game”. 

We must for example bring to the surface some of the needlessly confidential information in our organisations, which, if more widely known, would actually allow people to do their jobs better. Budgets, salaries, payments etc. Greater frontline control over systems and procedures, increased transparency and meritocracy could all emerge and do good rather than harm. Even as old staid organisations and outdated senior management teams begin to feel the pain of operating in yesterdays ways and structures, times are changing.

I suppose most of the problems begin with what these outdated managers think. Ask them what they think makes employees passionate about work, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. In a recent survey of more than 600 managers, from dozens of companies, to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors commonly considered significant - recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals. “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” came out at number one” (FT 2009).

Unfortunately, those managers are wrong. Having just completed seven years of in-company, frontline research and change we now know what the top motivator of performance is— it’s freedom. This was apparent in all organisations, for the workers just wanted the freedom to get on with things and the power to make a difference, their way. As a Leader, you should regard this as very good news, for the key to success is quite simple and in your control. It doesn’t depend on elaborate incentive systems, top rate procedures or rules written in gold font.  Just stop managing and let go!

But remember; New ideas, it is said, are first ignored and then ridiculed before finally becoming conventional wisdom. But why bother going through those first two stages with ideas that have merit? Get ahead of the pack. Start the new year with some fresh thinking. Just stop Leading, listen and focus on people .... simple!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bankers getting to know the customers - revolutionary!!!

I saw a report yesterday morning on high street banks and how they're going back to rewarding current and loyal customers by giving them better interest rates, mortgage and insurance deals etc.  A good example is the Halifax and the £5 per month campaign for current account holders. The rationale behind some of the benefits offered to existing customers is that if the bank has access to your current account activity they can better assess what you can and can't afford in terms of mortgages and loans.  Is it just me or was this how we used to do banking business years ago????
The report also mentioned Bank Managers are now making a concerted effort to get to know their customers individually and to better understand each persons circumstances.  Again....didn't this make sense years ago???!!!  It seems crazy that it has taken decades of technological advances, investment and understanding for businesses to see that what ultimately matters most is the customer and what they actually need and what works for them (for banks surely that means long-term more than short-term customer needs being met).
Perhaps the internet and indeed the social media revolution has finally made us understand each other again!  Everyone complained that new barriers were being built when we all started emailing and texting instead of talking.  Is it only now though that we are actually listening to each other again, and not just online,? With the explosion of citizen journalism we're actually appreciating the importance of talking and engaging with people and trying to create something that people actually want.
This new era of understanding translates directly to the workplace.  We're now better educated and connected than ever before and if we don't like something (and sometimes someone) we can shout about it to a listening audience.  This is the same for employees, people in general want to have a say, have input and to be a part of what is supplied to the customer.  And do you know what?  This actually works better for business.  We have to treat people and indeed staff with the respect they deserve and also to expect them to respond in an educated, intelligent and responsible (and this is key) manner.
At the end of the day we all want to feel like we're doing business with people, and we all want ultimately to feel loved!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Half tidy feedback from the 2009 ISRM Conference!

In my travels, trials and presentations during 2009 I was invited to be a guest speaker at the annual Institute of Sport and Recreation Management Conference in November.  An organisation and indeed an industry very close to my heart, as I previously worked in sports and leisure management, am a self-confessed fitness freak and passionately believe in the importance of sport in our culture, at every level.
A two day event, the line-up of speakers was varied, the venue was inviting, Alton Towers! And the hunger amongst the attendees was for a wide range of topics and hard-hitting advice.  There was also, dare I say it a lot of 'networking' going on! An overused and abused term these days, we used to call it talking, and we used to have conversations that didn't always need a goal or objective or outcome in mind!  Anyway...... I am sure real conversations happened.....but I digress
Following a packed and eventful 2009, where I was asked to speak, appear and/or facilitate at large corporations, organisations and events, from the NHS to a small family run department store, from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, to an ailing knicker factory, it was pleasing to receive open praise from the attendees at my last public appearance of the year.
Thank you to the ISRM Conference for staging such a successful event, and thanks to the attendees who said such nice things!....... I couldn't resist including a couple below....I'm only human!...

"The conference’s best speaker (Paul Thomas).....  Thomas gave an engaging, refreshing, inspirational talk – galvanising the mind and the audience"

"Could have listened to Paul Thomas all morning."

"Dr Paul Thomas was an excellent speaker who was also very entertaining! His topic and ideas gave food for thought and made the individual think about their own methods of management."

Some videos and posts on the 'Mad Management Virus' will be appearing here very very soon!