Every year, I like to catch up with a group of clients I have serviced for over a decade. We sit back, have a couple of drinks and shoot the breeze on the year that was. We are usually pretty open with what we have experienced and share our learnings in an honest and judgement free manner. This year one of my clients who is the CEO of a mid-tier listed business asked us a question about what we would all do differently in the year ahead and the answers were varied and interesting. The one answer that generated the most conversation came from one client who had experienced a particularly challenging year with his business suffering a substantial loss and mass retrenchments. He said that this year, he was going to ensure that he was focusing on seizing whatever opportunities he possibly could as opposed to fighting fires; he was determined to show initiative and not let his business be a victim to the whim of market conditions.
Now, this all sounds great in theory but what steps can you take to implement the concept?
Well, the first thing that he is choosing to do is plan more proactively; he is going to prioritise planning more seriously than he has done in the past. We all agreed that we spent far too little time actually planning for the future and, as such, we could easily become far too reactive. From a people perspective, he plans to hire for the future as opposed to purely fill vacancies and he is now working to actively pool and assess available talent both internally and externally. This resonated with all of us (even those of us who profess to be “experts” in the people area) as we all tend to wait until it is urgent to source and this leads to poor decisions made under pressure.
From here, my client has decided that he is going to ensure that he is not too detached from what is actually going on in his business. He has seven direct reports but over 1500 staff within his team and over the past few years he has felt as though he has become far too distant from what is actually going on. This came to a head last year when six of his key mid-tier executives left en masse to a competitor. When he asked why, they replied that they had felt disengaged from the business for some time and felt that nobody was listening. It was now far too risky for him not to listen to his employees as opposed to purely listening to his direct reports to gauge employee sentiment.
The final step that my client intended to take in order to show initiative this year was to proactively “play favourites.” For obvious reasons, this step will be the most controversial to implement in the business and bound to generate the most heat. My client stated his reasons succinctly and passionately to us all. He believed that we all, as leaders, spent far too much time and resources on being fair and equitable to all employees when a much greater return could be gained if we invested in those with the want to engage with the business strategy and the drive to excel. It was hard to argue with his rationale, even if it was in contrast to my own egalitarian beliefs. My client intends to lock in a team of his key staff with a retention plan designed to satisfy their career needs. He then plans to proactively plan for succession in the group, ensuring that his chosen employees are skilled and developed enough so that they are in the key position to be promoted when the opportunity arises. As for those that aren’t on board, he intends to be more direct than he has in the past, letting them know that there will be consequences when his expectations aren’t met.
So, there you have it; a pretty comprehensive plan for seizing this initiative for this year and beyond. I will be interested in seeing how his plans translate into actions this year and assess whether they are successful. Then again, we can all watch it happen on asx.com.au!
Brad McMahon – Managing Director