Coronavirus era. It’s time to bring up an article I wrote some years ago, with some slight adjustments
Resilience. Business resilience. Who will have the best operating model to mitigate the economic impact of Coronavirus?
Let’s make the point
A summary follows of where we are in the engineering and consulting sector.
In the past, we had the technical operating models, whose structure was based on business lines or technical specialities. Then the industrial sector model arrived in an attempt to move towards a client-oriented approach. The new trend is the accounts operating model, designed to break the internal barriers that have historically prevented companies from fully exploiting the entire client portfolio down for good.
Good move this last one, but we’re not there yet. Clients and tech could be the arms and legs of the winning operational model. However, we are still missing the heart and brain; we are missing people.
Engineering and consulting are made of hearts and brains. The best operating model must come with a marked client-orientation and extraordinary attention to high-quality standards but it must have people at its centre. It must be people-centric.
“Take care of your people, they will take care of the customer, who will ultimately drive the business and benefit the stakeholders. In that order.”
(“Leaders eat last” – Simon Sinek, Founder Start With Why)
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
(Richard Branson, CEO & Fondatore Virgin Group)
“When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization … they are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other … and the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside …”
(“Leaders eat last”, Simon Sinek)
A people-centric operating model is one with a working environment where people feel they belong, where people feel safe and could pull together to protect themselves and their companies from external dangers. It is a place where people could use their energy and ability to ensure their company’s resilience, stability, and growth.
How can we create such an environment? Some brainstorming.
Talking about people…
The right people in the right place. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite that often happens in our companies. The main reason is that role assignment processes usually ignore that personal skills are at least as important as management or technical ones. An excellent tech guy may not necessarily be an excellent salesperson, an excellent salesperson may not be necessarily be an excellent CEO, and so on. Underestimation of soft skills is also one of the key reasons we may have sociopaths in leadership roles, and a sociopath leader is very bad for the business.
Leaders lead and managers manage. So why do we stubbornly continue to put managers in leadership roles? Leaders are entrepreneurs, eyes on the horizon, they take care of the long-term, setting directions, and bringing people along with them. Managers are executors, eyes on the bottom line, they take care of the short-term, focusing on systems and control. We need both but, for the time being, we are over-managed and under-led. Therefore, short-term obsessed, ignoring the long-term.
Leaders eat last…
We need a “Leaders eat last” (Simon Sinek) kind of leadership. We need leaders who rely on empathy, trust, integrity, honesty and accountability. We need vision and bravery. We need leaders who are doing the right thing and not doing things right. We need leaders who are telling the truth and not telling us what others want to hear. We need leaders who inspire face-to-face, not managers who manage behind a laptop.
We need servant leadership. “…. If we want to be good leaders, it is our job to help the people we lead or work with, be good at their jobs. ….it means we help them get the resources, the information and the support they need to perform at their natural best. It also means watching their backs and helping them fix mistakes when they make them….”
(“Real leaders serve” – Linkedin article by Simon Sinek).
Processes, plans & principles
We need to develop clear and reliable feedback processes, top-down and bottom-up. Top-down feedback is essential to the professional growth of our juniors; bottom-up feedback is essential to have better leaders, servant leaders.
We need to develop clear, reliable and balanced career paths. Commonsense but not common practice. It’s quite usual to have sales in the spotlight, and tech and admin mumbling on the
side lines. We need to develop clear and reliable recognition frameworks, not only focusing on individualities but widening the horizon to team performance and cross-functional collaboration.
Do not underpay but also avoid overpaying. Here again, talking about commonsense but not always about common practice. And talking about salaries, it is always good to keep an eye on your pyramid. The shape itself it is not the key, it is the shape versus the market you want to play in that matters.
Training must be a priority. Training is one of the most overused words when talking about employees. But the reality is often a list of failed training programmes. Training is not billable, so it shifts down in the priority list, always due to our foolish habit of only focusing on the short-term. We need to change the mindset. Training plan achievement should be included as a key objective of team supervisors so, for instance, if you have X money budgeted for training for this tax year, spending less is bad, not good.
We desperately need integrated, synergic, cross-functional business development plans. Business development is a task where sales leads but the rest of the company supports and adds value. All key functions must be involved from the beginning – no Chinese walls and no silos. A cost/benefit analysis to penetrate a new market or develop a new service must be carried out together, as a team.
We need dynamic and diversified business models. Having the same business model for 20 years is naïve. Having a business model that produces more than 50% of its revenue in the same sector or the same service is foolish, and from the same contract is tragic. It is very difficult to get out of it, and in the long-term, the only way you can stay alive is by squeezing your people until even that won’t be enough anymore and you fail.
Lay-offs should be the very last resort – not the quickest, the easiest or the cheapest but the very last. Full stop. If you have to make them, respect and dignity must be the drivers. That means that you have to talk to people, genuinely, face to face, explaining the reasons why and that you have to give the chance to start a new life. Yes, we are also talking about money. The way you manage restructuring will determine the future well-being of the ones who go but also the trust and motivation of the ones who stay, a key rule to keep in mind.
Performance versus ethics. Team v. individuality. I don’t give a damn if you are the best performer in the company, if you are performing to the detriment of your mates, you are out, faster than a speeding bullet.
Deeds, not words. All the above could turn into a bunch of irritating fluff if you do not move quickly from theory to practice.
Platitudes, utopias or idealisms…
Someone could argue that it is a heap of platitudes. It’s not. Differently, people-centric should be the most common operating model, but it’s not.
Someone might say it’s the other way round, and that it’s a list of exciting but unachievable ideas. It’s not. You only need a leader to lead, not a manager.
Someone could argue it’s a heap of idealism that has nothing to do with real business. It’s not. Stable and lasting profitability is associated directly with your people’s happiness.