Improving business results– Is there a better way?
Improving business results– is there a better way?
Can anyone name ONE entrepreneur or CEO who is not passionate about their business,improving performance and profits? Is it not in the Indian DNA and the national psyche?
So, how exactly do we improve business results?
We all have our own favorite prescriptions – some excellent, some not so good and none that are consistently successful. We often turn to the academic and consulting world for a host of other buzzword solutions. Again some work, some don’t and there is still no consistently successful approach.
What prevents us from achieving a better bottom line?
The rapidly changing business environment presents us with numerous challenges – from huge to minor needing winning solutions. These are often around increasing revenue, reducing costs, accessing funding, improving customer service, creating a more productive workforce, overcoming government bureaucracy and so on. Try as much as you like one simply can’t evade them as both survival and success depend on their timely resolution.
These challenges often limit our success – especially if we cannot resolve them effectively. What is the solution? Surely it must be around improving our problem-solving capability! Finding better, quicker, smarter ways of solving problems and generating great solutions. As Dr Mike Marquardt says “Fresh thinking and new learning are needed if we are to avoid responding to today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions, while tomorrow’s challenges engulf us”.
Our challenge is to realize that our most important business leadership job is to solve urgent and important problems that threaten and limit our success. It is to create great solutions that not only overcome challenges but also let us exploit all the wonderful opportunities out there.
This sounds really simple, right? Just improve our problem-solving skills. If only it were that easy. Unfortunately this is one of the biggest challenges we face! Changing our mindsets about solving problems and changing our actual problem-solving behavior has proved extremely difficult for many executives. What works then?
Firstly, we have to recognize and accept that we,as individuals,do not have the best solutions. We probably don’t even know all the right questions to ask. We need to involve a diverse range of people in the all important problem-solving process. Getting a bunch of experts together rarely ever works. Why? Because this specialized expertise quickly becomes outdated in the ever changing contexts and markets. If that were the solution, all one needed to do was to bring in the experts however, at the risk of getting the same old approaches of the past,no fresh thinking and breakthrough solutions.
Secondly, we need to realize and accept that the best solutions to many of our operational problems probably already exist within our organizations. People on the shop floor and at the customer interface often have exceptional solutions and great ideas to improve things. Unfortunately, we have a terrible track record of actually asking people at all levels for their input and ideas. Regrettably, our leadership philosophy is often that lower levels are paid to carry out instructions only and not to question how we do things or think how we can improve them. The concept of actually engaging all levels in important business problem-solving is quite foreign to our culture. Just think about getting the hands-on experience and the resulting synergy to the problem solving table.
Thirdly, we have to learn more and a lot quicker than we currently do. Also,change the way we learn. The Indian education system appears to focus on knowledge acquisition and success is measured by examination results. Tragically, this education model does not equip people for the ‘real world’ of work and life success. We need to learn through practical work experience, through solving major challenges, through taking on big projects. Most importantly we need to learn through asking questions, through reflection and coaching and ‘figuring things out’. As employers, we need to focus a lot less on academic performance and a lot more on practical work and life experience.
Let’s summarise what we have said so far. To improve business performance we need to accept that problem-solving is our prime leadership responsibility. And we have to become a lot better at problem-solving than we are. We have to change our leadership style to include a diverse range of people in problem solving and decision- making. We have to learn more, learn faster and learn differently. Our reliance on the past will not take us far, new knowledge needs to be created and we need to learn new ways of doing things. Finally, we have to make questioning and enquiry a central part of our behaviours. So how do we go about this daunting task?
Action Learning has rapidly become the ‘black box’ that world class companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, Toyota and literally thousands of others all over the world have embraced to dramatically improve business performance and simultaneously develop capability. Action Learning is about small groups of people working together to solve urgent and important business challenges and learning as they go. It is a very powerful problem-solving tool that simultaneously develops exceptional leadership and team skills. Business Week recently defined Action Learning as the “problem-solving tool of the 21st Century”. It is a very practical tool that solves problems in a fraction of the time of traditional approaches and generates superior solutions. A huge strength of Action Learning is that it generates practical action steps that group members actually implement. Action Learning places questioning and enquiry at the heart of organization culture.
For more information on Action Learning go to www.wial.in
Ron McLuckie, Chief Executive
WIAL India Pvt. Limited