Businesses fail because they want to have their cake and eat it


I never thought I would ever write this, but business can actually learn something from Government.

It does not matter if you agree with Joe Hockey that the culture of entitlement should be replaced with a culture of opportunity. What is clear is that the Government understands (and is executing accordingly) that revenue and expenditure are functions of the prevailing CULTURE.

The government believes (rightly) that the way to fix your budget is to change the culture.

It does not matter what your views are about the processes and priorities the Government is setting, and you may even believe the budget does not need fixing. That is not important, but we should understand the implications of this approach to governance because there are important lessons for businesses to learn from this.

Organisations are just groups of people – and people always seem to want to have things both ways.

  • You can’t have a lean staff compliment and great customer service.
  • You can’t screw your supplier down and expect a great relationship with lots of support and trade marketing dollars.
  • You can’t spend no money on training and expect no mistakes.
  • You can’t not manage your risks and complain about the increased premiums.
  • You can’t complain about government red tape and ask for protection against cheap imports.
  • The community wants to experience the pride in a national carrier (Qantas) but prefer to fly the cheaper alternative.
  • You can’t ask more from your people and give less to your people.
  • You can’t want to be an innovator and avoid all risks.

From these examples the culture of entitlement seems very prevalent in the business community. Idiomatically it’s called having your cake and eating it – and every business should interrogate itself honestly about the extent to which that is part of its organisational culture.

Just like the Government is attempting to do, the task of every business is to also create the culture that is conducive to performance. Every entrepreneurial manager will and should be focussed on creating a culture of opportunity in their organisation.

The job of every real business leader is to create a culture that will serve as the vehicle to deliver on the business model.

Most leaders would express the view that they are striving to create an organisational culture of ‘opportunity’. They would say they are flexible and have equal opportunities for all; that employees are empowered and generally have the ‘opportunity’ to contribute and that all that matters is that they ‘deliver’. But are you really?

Compare your organisation against something called ROWE (results only work environment) that has been created in a few companies:

People could work from home absolutely anytime they felt like it, without needing a reason or excuse. There would be no such thing as a sick day or a vacation allotment—employees could take off as much time as they wanted, whenever they saw fit. Perhaps most provocative: All meetings would be optional. Even if your boss had invited you. Don’t think you need to be there? Don’t come.

In return for this absolute freedom, workers would need to produce. Bosses would set macro expectations (e.g., increase sales by 10 percent) and then assess the results without micromanaging (e.g., keeping tabs on who arrived at the office earliest in the morning or left latest at night). If the goal was met, there were no complaints from your boss about that Tuesday afternoon you spent at your kid’s soccer game. If the goal wasn’t met, no amount of face time around the office would substitute for the lack of results. Of course, if your job description involved opening up the store at 9 a.m., fulfilment of that goal was a must. But for knowledge workers, measuring output became entirely divorced from hours logged in the office.

How do you really compare? Is your company really about empowering people, or is mere lip service because as the leader you want to empower the people but you also want to retain control? Freedom is a scary thing.

I am not suggesting that the culture I described above is the ‘right’ culture, because every company has its own ‘right’ culture. And I not suggesting ‘work from home’ is even a relevant cultural attribute to strive for.

What I am suggesting is that:

  1. What we think our culture is, is not always what it really is.
  2. Not all leaders get the importance of culture as the primary driver of business outcomes.
  3. And those who do, don’t appreciate the extent to which the culture is undermined by conflicting messages caused by not honouring the trade-offs that are required to really build a robust culture.

The Libs are banking that the benefits of their approach will appeal to more people and that once they get the taste of it they would like it more than the alternative offered by Labor.

I am reliably informed politicians are human too, so you can bet your bottom dollar the Libs will open up the purse strings again in the budget before the next election. Just in case. (And in the process undo much of what they set out to do, but at least they get to keep their jobs and so the cycle goes – two steps forward and one back.)

Government is the ultimate monopoly, so they can take that route; but can you afford to undermine the desired outcomes in your business by failing to understand the power of culture?

Crack the whip on that retail fetish of yours

More training is RARELY the solution

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