Monthly Archives: November 2011

mini diasporas & linkedin

The EconomistI read a nice article in The Economist last week, it was entitled “The Magic of Diasporas”. And since I was in London going to and “Australian Business UK” function, It made me feel even more connected to my fellow Aussies. Diasporas are described by Wikipedia as “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland”

Anyway the article mainly focussed on the Chinese and Indian diaspora. There are 22M Indian’s living outside India and more Chinese living and working outside of China (est. 83M) than there are people in France! Closer to home, it estimated that around 5% of Australian’s live O/S at anyone time. Diasporas are a major force in the world when you consider the fact that China isn’t so much a country with borders, but a billion people spread over the world!

The article indicated that the value of diasporas came down to three things:

1. They accelerate communication of ideas and opportunities between different locations.

2. They foster trust, as you would naturally prefer to do business with a countryman overseas.

3. They foster collaboration, as disaporas capitalise on opportunities between regions.

Although the article was fascinating, it wasn’t immediately useful to me, until I started thinking about what I termed mini-diasporas. More than once I have been a member of a large group of people that have each eventually gone their separate ways, spreading out through different regions and industries. I finished high school with around 180 others, graduated from University in a class of around 40, graduated from Officer School with a group of 14, and have been a member of variety of different small businesses with staff from 3 to 180. So how to take advantage of this?

The answer of course is Linkedin. I would recommend to anyone joining Linkedin to connect with their fellow employees. Although initially this wouldn’t seem to be of much use, my experience through managing a mailing list of a couple of thousand people is that 33% of people changed employers every two years. Therefore by connecting with the people you currently work with, you are hooking into a network that will be wide flung within a few years. And by activating this network through regular updates on what you are up to, you gain mindshare with the people in it as you each find your own way.

communicating modes

communication mdoesA friend of mine has a beautiful house outside of Geelong. It sits on an acre, has an orchard and chooks in the backyard and started off life as a church. And it was while looking over this view and drinking wine on a hot day recently, that I had a major insight into management issues.

My friend, a lawyer that specialises in Corporate Governance, was talking about the different modes that a board can communicate to management in. Paraphrasing, they were:

Encouraging – Letting staff know you think they are doing a great job, or trying to motivate them.

Suggesting – Letting staff know of some options that they may want to look into.

Coordinating – Helping staff act in the way that you want them to act.

Controlling – Making sure staff do exactly what you want.

This framework also works for senior management speaking to junior management, or junior management speaking to staff. Its not just a board level issue, its an issue throughout business and in fact anywhere there is a hierarchy, including inside families.

The number one problem he asserted was not so much, poor quality communication, but a misunderstanding of the mode of communication.

All too often you see staff members getting pissed off as they believe they are being ridden and have no flexibility, when in relaity they are just getting suggestions. Alternatively I see managers getting stressed about staff not taking direction.

A friend of mine has recently taken over a business unit of a large corporate, and in the absence of a clear, public instruction from above about the new arrangements, is now finding life difficult as his new staff members don’t actually see him as the boss. He’s just someone from head offices who is loaned in a couple of hours a week to help them improve themselves.  Both he and his staff need to have clarity about exactly what mode he is communicating in.

What made this discussion on communication modes fascinating, was that the conversation occurred whilst we watched the chooks quickly sort out who was boss and the “pecking order”. Non nonsense, quickly done, everybody happy.


natural ceilings

Lt ColonelAn odd thing I noticed a long time ago when I was I in the Army was that most of the Lieutenant Colonels I met used to give me a really bad time, and were unpleasant to work with. I accepted this as I assumed that as a young Lieutenant, I was forever mucking things up and the only way I was going to become good at my job, is to have my errors both professional and personal, repeatedly and forcefully pointed out to me.

The odd thing though was that whenever I met a General, they seemed to be genuinely nice people. Sometimes a bit grandfatherly, sometimes a bit scary – but always calm people who made you feel good about yourself and made you feel you could achieve more and were going onto great things. They were also always capable of explaining the “why” of any situation using words or reference points I could understand.

I pondered this on and off for a couple of years, wondering if there was some special course that General’s did that turned them into nice people.

Eventually at a Dining In Night, I plucked up the courage to voice my observation and ask the old general I was sitting next to whether there was a special course they went on. He responded, somewhat drolly, “no son, its just that Lieutenant Colonel is the natural ceiling for the arsehole”.

I’ve taken it with me all my life and it tends to pop into my head unbidden, whenever I am treated badly by someone who perceives themselves as very senior.

The 10 Principles of War

On war ClausewitzAround the start of my career in the late 80’s, Eastern thought was very big in the workplace. There was a growing awareness of Japanese solutions such as Kanban and Keiretsu. Management books such as Miyamoto Musashi’s – The Book of 5 Rings and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War were massively popular as books on strategy. What I found strange though was that these two books were very old. The Book of 5 Rings was written in 1645 and the Art of War in around 500BCE! What was going through my head at the time was, “If I am going to apply military strategy to business, surely there must be something a little more up to date!”. I was certain that we must have learnt something over the last couple of hundred if not thousands of years.

Of course, the answer was staring me in the face. In the Army I had learnt about the 10 Principles of War. These were the ideas first acted upon by French General & Emperor Napolean Bonaparte, then codified by the Prussian Officer Carl von Clausewitz in his essay “The Principles of War” in 1812. Since then these Principles of War have been further tweaked and are now taught in every Military Officer school on the plant.

Each of them are quite simple and in every case can be applied to commercial operations to improve the chances of their success. So what are they?

  1. Selection and Maintenance of the Aim
    A single, unambiguous aim is the keystone of successful military operations. Selection and maintenance of the aim is regarded as the master principle of war.
  2. Maintenance of Morale
    Morale is a positive state of mind derived from inspired political and military leadership, a shared sense of purpose and values, well-being, perceptions of worth and group cohesion.
  3. Offensive Action
    Offensive action is the practical way in which a commander seeks to gain advantage, sustain momentum and seize the initiative.
  4. Security
    Security is the provision and maintenance of an operating environment that affords the necessary freedom of action, when and where required, to achieve objectives.
  5. Surprise
    Surprise is the consequence of shock and confusion induced by the deliberate or incidental introduction of the unexpected.
  6. Concentration of Force
    Concentration of force involves the decisive, synchronized application of superior fighting power (conceptual, physical, and moral) to realize intended effects, when and where required.
  7. Economy of Effort
    Economy of effort is the judicious exploitation of manpower, materiel and time in relation to the achievement of objectives.
  8. Flexibility
    Flexibility – the ability to change readily to meet new circumstances – comprises agility, responsiveness, resilience, acuity and adaptability.
  9. Cooperation
    Cooperation entails the incorporation of teamwork and a sharing of dangers, burdens, risks and opportunities in every aspect of warfare.
  10. Sustainability
    To sustain a force is to generate the means by which its fighting power and freedom of action are maintained.

I tend to think that this is a great framework for both building a plan within, as well as analysing the plans of others. Just replace the word military with commercial and it all tends to make sense. But the big one for me is the first, and master principle – Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. Get this right and everything else starts falling into place.