'Anyone who stops learning is old,
whether 20 or 80.
Anyone who keeps learning
Complacency kills. So does inertia.
ARKING time in a warp of complacency has driven many executives into premature
pasture. As business consultant Noel Tichy observes: 'They stayed in the
same place doing the same things they'd always done in the same way they'd
always done them while the environment around them became more hostile ...
'And soon they were dead.'
Tichy, who's also a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Business,
has an antidote:
It's a new turn-up for the business books.
If nothing else, it prevents complacency, the death knell of many
a business, from gaining a foothold.
Now consider this scenario
- one beloved
by so many of the people at the helm of business in South Africa and so many
of those who aspire to occupy the driving seats ...
|A plush office with dark wood panelling, a large desk as well as
a settee and lounge chairs separated by a coffee table in the 'discussion
area'. The desktop is clear except for a long playing telephone and an intercom
Mr Executive flips the intercom unit switch and summonses his mini-skirted
minion, variously described as a 'private secretary' or 'personal assistant'.
When she enters her boss's lair, he issues a long stream of instructions.
He orders her to:
involves ongoing learning
of management routines
- write and distribute a batch of memos;
- photocopy his daughter's school project;
- organise the monthly sales meeting plus a 'finger lunch' for
those who attend;
- reserve cinema tickets for him and his wife/mistress, and
- prepare and fax confirmations to a collection of suppliers and
word is law
in the work domain.
When he convicts
there is no appeal.
|In addition, 'Girl Friday', who also makes a passable cup of copy,
cocoons her boss from persistent life assurance sales representatives, irate
customers, disgruntled employees, trade union officials and other forms of
If you do whatever managers do in this type of environment, prepare yourself
for a shock so rude it's bound to send your stress level soaring to unprecedented
heights. And if you're edging up the corporate ladder to this sort of executive
ambience, don't hold your breath.
It isn't going to happen.
Your job as an executive is about to be redefined. And in its new form, as
I suggested in the previous chapter, you won't manage.
Which means you'll guide and motivate.
It's a whole new ball game.
The new-age manager knows he doesn't hold a monopoly on either wisdom or
knowledge. He often seeks advice because he realises that people who know
best know how to do the jobs are the people who them. Yet the new-age manager
ensures that he knows enough to step into the breach in any capacity whenever
To keep your job at the head of the team, you're going to have to learn to
do more than those things that business schools define as management
- barking orders, dictating memos, juggling debits and credits,
planning tactics and strategies and downing a martini or three after a round
of golf on Wednesday afternoons.
What more can anyone expect you to do?
KEEP ABREAST EVERYTHING
Follow my five-point plan to keep yourself fully primed for almost
every new business age contingency.
- Build up your intellectual
- Know all the functions
required to produce a result.
- Upgrade your knowledge
across the board.
- Work yourself out of your position.
must handle finances,
define clear goals
and draw up
to his employees.
BUILD UP YOUR INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL.
Microsoft, the international computer software giant, boasts that
its only factory asset is human imagination.
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLulan gets it right when he says: 'The future
of work now consists of learning a living rather than earning a living.'
The way things are going, you'll probably have to relearn what you do at
least five times during the course of your career, according to a behavioural
psychologist at the Ford Motor Company in the United States. And some people
believe that even that is a gross under-estimate.
So how do you build up your intellectual capital?
In three short word: Open your mind.
Insist on looking for more answers, even when you think you've solved the
problem. Look at what's bothering you from different angles. The fifth solution
may be a lot better that your first 'right' answer.
Think like a beginner
Opening your mind also means thinking like a beginner even if you're
an acknowledged expert in your field. If you're like most of the experts
I know, you thrive on complexity.
Apparently simple solutions are not professional.
Experts have an obsession. They have to be
They have to do things the 'right way',
no matter how complicated.
and thinking like
almost forces you
to look at a problem
|They overdose on
historical precedent, trying to force everything
to fit into what they already know. They invariably define what is new in
terms of what is old and what is unknown in terms of what is known.
Here's a story - said to be true - about an expert who beat
the so-called expert syndrome.
During World War Two, the Allied Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur,
summoned an army engineer to his headquarters. The general wanted to know
if it was feasible to build a bridge across a certain stream that was holding
up the arrival of military supplies.
The engineer assured him that bridging the stream was well within the bounds
'Good,' said MacArthur. 'Get your draughtsmen to make the necessary drawings.
Three days later the general again summoned the engineer. 'How's the bridge
coming along?' he asked.
'It's ready,' the engineer replied. 'You can send the supplies across right
now. That is, you can send the trucks across if you don't have to wait for
the drawings. They ain't done yet.'
The driving force
In the ever-changing business environment, your value to your company is
only as great as the contribution you can make to the bottom line. Intellectual
capital rather than
product inventory has become the driving force of business. And you must
constantly update it to keep yourself a head of the pack.
Writing this, I took another look at my computer. It set me back a little
over R8 700,00, which included the peripherals. I'd be surprised if the materials
used to make it came to R700,00. So what I really invested in was the formidable
brain power that designed the machine to do what it does.
I think it was John Wooden, one of America's greatest basketball coaches,
who said that it's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
So welcome to the world of
grey matter and ...
INVEST IN INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL
KNOW ALL THE FUNCTIONS REQUIRED TO PRODUCE A RESULT.
Today, a marketing manager can't just be a marketing manager. Neither
can a production manager confine himself to production. They need a broader
range of skills to increase their flexibility and value.
So do you.
International executive head hunter Gary Knisely warns that betting on your
speciality is like putting all your money in one stock. 'imagination'
Consider a military example.
If you narrow
|Members of Britain's elite and feared Special Air Service (SAS) usually work
in teams of four. Each member of the team is a specialist. The first may
a fundi in free-fall parachuting; the second may be an explosives expert.
The third member may have sharply honed diving skills, while the fourth may
be a past-master in vehicle handling. But each member is obliged to master
more than his own speciality. He must have sufficient knowledge of what his
colleagues do so that he can take over at a moment's notice in an emergency.
Since secretary birds are high on the list of species heading for extinction,
you're going to have to learn to:
- keyboard your own letters;
- dial your own phone calls;
- send your own faxes, and
- make your own coffee.
The implications are clear.
In the new business order,
you must be prepared
to get your hands dirty.
|More frightening, perhaps, is that as protective layers of corporate
blubber are siphoned off, you get closer to the front-line - closer to
the people who interact with your customers; closer to the customers themselves.
So you'll gave to upgrade your people and selling skills.
And it doesn't stop there.
You'll also have to acquire industrial relations skills.
Increasingly militant behaviour by trade unions led to constant
work disruptions that sapped profits, forcing a friend - the sales and
marketing director of a large Johannesburg-based company - to go back to
school to acquire skills in industrial relations.
|It's to do everything that needs to be done that will keep your
business, your department or your division running at a profit. That includes
admin, selling, customer service, working out and submitting quotations,
advertising, public relations, distribution, personnel recruitment and selection,
and industrial relations.
So, if your job
as a manager
isn't purely to
what is it?
Lord Brougham neatly encapsulated the concept when he said: 'Try
to know everything of something, and something of everything.'
SO EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
DO PERPETUAL HOMEWORK.
Everything becomes obsolete. Rapid advances in technology, for
example, gives most machines a useful working life of between four and six
years. After that, they're fit
only for the junk yard. That is unless you're prepared to extend their useful
life by heavy retooling.
You're not much different.
Everything you learn comes with built-in obsolescence. What you
know now may keep you going for another four to six years. Then you're going
to have to retool intellectually if you want to remain in business.
Like everything else, knowledge has a limited shelf life. It goes out of
So, if you want to survive business
wise and, perhaps, prosper, you
will have commit yourself to a lifelong learning curve.
If you refuse to constantly acquire new skills, you'll either slip
backwards or be left to mark time in a world in
which anything that doesn't move forwards is to all intents and purposes
dead and buried.
We operate in a business environment that
will become increasingly brain-based. Ongoing training is vital.
Treat it as an investment in endless research and development.
Remember that unlike machinery, which depreciates, knowledge constantly refreshed
is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns.
So to stay in the lead ...
COMMIT YOURSELF TO SCHOOL FOR LIFE
UPGRADE YOUR KNOWLEDGE ACROSS THE BOARD.
Earlier I suggested that you go for a broad base of knowledge rather
than over-specialise. A specialist knows everything about something and nothing
about anything else.
Consultants around the world note that we're in the midst of a major
repolarisation of work.
Which means you must be prepared to learn about things that you
thought you'd never need to know about.
(December 20, 1993) sums up the situation in
'Companies have recognised for a while that they need to become
nimbler competitors by eliminating layers. But what businesses are learning
is that real horizontal go much further than that ...
Companies now need
fewer and fewer
better and better
to organise workers into self-managing teams, altering management and
employee responsibilities - and everybody's compensation.
Senior managers must relinquish control, something rare in the absence
of a guillotine ... And lower level managers must take more
responsibility for wider issues - anathema to the organisation
man. Nothing less than a corporate cultural revolution is needed ...'
In South Africa, local organisations, like others in the industrialised
world, are moving towards a more effective teamwork approach, which enhances
workers' level of delivery. A team structure, in which members support each
other, allows members to work together to make decisions that streamline
Now pause for a moment and ask yourself: 'Do you and
those who work for you have the required abilities to take your business
where you want it to go?'
You can answer this question honestly only by constantly assessing
your collective skills to identify gaps that exist between what you're capable
of doing and your corporate goals.
If you fail to conduct regular skills evaluation tests, you could be committing
business hara-kiri. For example, you may be writing your own marketing
strategy without the necessary expertise. This could be the reason why your
competitors have moved into the fast lane to overtake you.
The answer ...
CONSTANT BROAD-BASED TRAINING
WORK YOURSELF OUT OF YOUR POSITION.
You're the boss. The managing director, perhaps. Or maybe you head
a major department or division. You may even be a regional manager. And you're
about to leave. Soon. Without a heir apparent.
After your departure the business could find itself in trouble.
Big trouble. It may even collapse.
So what can you do about it?
Dismantle your job. Pull it apart.
Then train your subordinates to take over.
In effect, work yourself out of your position.
Let's backtrack a bit.
You must acquire at least four skills before you can consider yourself
a business leader in the entrepreneur mould. You must:
- become business literate by developing a flair for the type of
business you're in;
- develop conceptual skills that allow you to think systematically,
creatively and innovatively;
- cultivate decision-making skills that allow you to resolve problems
quickly, often with access to only incomplete information, and
- develop people skills so that you can recruit and motivate the
right type of people for your type of business.
Read the last point again.
These are the people who you are going to train to take over your
position in the driving seat. Business consultants call it 'empowerment'.
And it isn't just another business buzzword.
Empowerment allows you to harness and exploit the many talents that
your employees bring to the job. It calls on you to hack through the chains
that bind then job-wise. They'll be eternally grateful, happier, more motivated
and more productive.
That's the theory, anyway.
On a practical level, if you're a typical South African boss, you'll
pay lip service to the concept of empowerment through cross-training. But
there's no way you're going to train anyone to fill your shoes, especially
while you're still wearing them.
However, it pays to loosen the reins, even if you don't vacate the
driving seat. The powers-that-be at Eltron International, a bar code manufacturer
did, and turnover zoomed from $400 000,00 in to $6,5-million in three years.
To bring your subordinates up to the level where they can take over
- Cross-train everyone to extend their range of responsibilities.
- Give them all the responsibility they can handle.
- Don't monitor their every move. If you constantly look over their
shoulders, you'll quickly drain their enthusiasm.
- Set performance goals. Then get out of they way while your employees
get on with it.
- Reward performance. A worker will only bust his gut if he knows
his hard work will pay off.
- Be lavish with praise, but only when it's deserved. And when
you dish it out, make sure all your workers hear the applause.
- Hire smart. Hone your staff recruitment programme to filter through
only the best. Remember that intelligence is as important as skills, particularly
in the driving seat.
Repeat the procedure to replace yourself in the executive suite
regularly - say every quarter. It's frightening, but it will improve overall
performance - including yours - no end.
So don't just sit back and dish out orders ...
TRAIN YOUR SUBORDINATES TO TAKE OVER