Monthly Archives: April 2009

//April

Who are the best decision makers in the world?

For those of you that are familiar with my nine step approach to complex problem solving will know just how seriously I take the subject of decision making, in fact I devote a whole step to it. I place a lot of emphasis on deciding up front how the decision will be made and who exactly should take it. Depending upon the type of decision and its urgency I put forward various possibilities of approach. But this week I learned a new much simpler way and it has got me thinking as to how I could make it work within my client’s organization structures.

Imagine this. Imagine that you are looking to rent an apartment, obviously you will map some specific criteria: location (convenience and safety), price per month, number of bedrooms, oil fired or gas central heating and so on. Once you have your criteria and have viewed a few choices that fit, you then begin the difficult phase of weighing up one option against the other. This process is not so difficult if you are the only person going to live in the apartment, but imagine you were looking for a head office location for a multi-national company with desk space for 2000 administrators. What if I told you there is another way, an easier and more efficient way?

This week Dr. Elva Robinson of Bristol University offered a valid alternative to our clumsy decision making processes. She deducts from her observations that you simply need to elect a scout to go out and find a location and not to bother to compare alternatives at all.

Basically the idea is that you simply look until you find a location that meets all your criteria and move in! But that’s impossible I hear you say, and indeed it probably is for humans, but ants do this all the time. By gluing radio transmitters to the backs of 2000 rock ants Dr. Elva’s students discovered that ants appoint ‘estate agents’ that go out and look for a new nest when the old one gets close to becoming unfit for purpose. The ant agents have the full approval of the colony, they have very specific criteria and when they find something suitable the whole colony moves in and gets on with the required building and alterations. No debates, no board meetings, contracts or lawyers, just simple delegation and logical decision making.

In fact us humans are pretty bad at decision taking. If we are given multiple alternatives we may begin by approaching the topic logically, but more often than not, at the last minute we mess everything up by taking a completely irrational decision based upon instinct or a seemingly completely irrelevant criteria point, always trying to justify it to ourselves afterwards, especially if it turns out to be a bad one.

Now, if you are thinking that an ant colony is a much more straightforward structure than a business, you should look a little closer. It certainly is much more efficient and effective. I think us humans can learn a thing or two about delegation and decision making from Dr. Robinson and her study on ants. After all, she reminds us that there are probably more ants in the world than humans – that has to be some measure of success? After we have screwed up the environment so much that we become extinct, I wouldn’t mind supposing that Rock ants will still be around taking the right decisions for their long term well being and safety.

Now it’s back to advising my clients and guiding them into bringing in the right criteria and methodology to ensure they take the right decisions. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Have a good week,
Harley

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Tough change: The French and the British can be so resistant!


Change managers are paid to anticipate resistance, to make strategy and contingency plans for it and, in short, to ensure a smooth transaction from an existing situation to something new.

Historically, apart from wars between countries, there have been some massive change projects that I would have been proud to have claimed to ‘have managed’ :

• 3 September 1967, Sweden switching from driving on the left to driving on the right,
• January 1, 2002: the Germans give up the Deutschmark for the Euro
• 28 March, 2005: the Irish introduce a no smoking ban in all public places, including pubs and cafe’s.

This week the French switched to a new style car number plate. Previously, the plate was issued to the person and not the car. It indicated the region from which the owner came from. As from this week the two digit regional identifier has been removed causing much upset and push back.

Probably the most resented of all the French regions is 75. If you live in Troyes and you see a car badly parked, you would likely be inclined to look at its number plate and if it turned out to be from the region 75 then you would most likely explain it away by saying “typical Parisian!” And if you were stuck behind a dithering car in the capital city and noticed that the plate came from your local home town, you would probably sympathize with the driver and refrain from honking your horn.

And so is it, from now French children won’t have the fun game of spotting regions on long car journeys, and everyone will lose (against their will) the link between themselves and their regions. But the French authorities have brought in one concession – they have left a space at the end of the plate, where the owner can add a sticker indicating where they come from. Of course, like all last minute initiatives, this has not been thought through because people can put on any sticker they like. So Parisians on holiday in Reims can switch their stickers and pretend to be from somewhere else! How strange and unpredictable we humans are. How strange that we become so chauvinistic about where we come from and where we would like to be!

In my experience, change managers have the biggest difficulty not with handling massive changes but small ones. I once managed a change project for a multi-national company where we had to introduce US Qwerty keyboards into all their offices across the globe. In Spain and Germany (where quite frankly the impact was massive) the resistance was predictably vocal but balanced and a solution was found. In the UK, however, where the difference in the keyboard is almost zero (only the British pound sign is replaced by a $, and a couple of other very minor differences) the resistance was incredible. I had not expected it and had no plan in place to fight off the vociferous and passionate resistance. The argument thrown at me was that because the change was so small, there was no point in doing it! The UK resistors expected us to make technological changes to our platform and change our purchasing procedures where in every other country, the globalization argument of ‘anyone working anywhere’ had won the day.

Life is strange and people unpredictable and as long as it remains this way, us change managers will continue to have a purpose and a very interesting life!

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An e-mail from my mother and an excellent lesson on business efficiency

My mother replied to an e-mail in which I mentioned that my lawn mower is at the repairers, just at the time when I need it most. My mother is 80 years old and her lawn is bigger than a full size tennis court, with additional grass paths and grass covered orchards. In her reply she gives me seven valuable lessons in four lines of text, amazing:

Here’s what she wrote:

Harley,

Can't you borrow a mower from a neighbour, friend or relative? I get my mowers serviced in the winter when it is 10% cheaper, I must admit that Judith takes it for me to where she gets her machines serviced. We cut all the grass today, using the big machine to pick up the leaves etc. Then I can use my mulcher, a smaller, manageable size with no grass box to empty, so much quicker.

Have a good weekend,

Love Mum xxx

The seven lessons:
Lesson one: be resourceful
Lesson two: solve the real problem and don’t complain
Llesson three: plan ahead
Lesson four: save on bottom line costs
Lesson five: delegate and get the task done,
Lesson six: be efficient; use the right tool for job
Lesson seven: put the right tools in the hands of the right employees

Here’s my reply:

Mum,

Me and grass, we have a love / hate relationship – I try to ignore it and hope it goes away, it ignores me and keeps on growing!

Following your email I have put an annually reoccurring reminder in my computer to take the lawn mower in for a service on the first Saturday of December every year.

I think human evolution takes so long purely because the things we should do to improve, we don’t do – because for the most of us, planning ahead is not natural. In prehistoric times (and still today for the millions of those that are living on the edge) we lived for the now moment, each day, live or die.

In business I learned to plan ahead and have created elaborate focus, planning and progress measuring systems – but in my private life, I simply want to go home, chill out, listen to radio 4 and drink a glass of white wine in the sunshine – all the rest is an unwelcome interruption ;-)

Love Harley xxx

I know my mother, I know she’s going to reply “Harley, stop theorising and just get on with it, if you follow my advice – you won’t have to even cut the grass yourself , you lazy swine!“

If my wife reads this blog, I'll have to go and borrow my neighbours lawn mower and I'll spend my sunny Saturday cutting grass - I need an excuse, quick!

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