Today’s world is impatient – which is why it likes to receive fast and concise answers to all questions. Is it a good way to forward? Well, certainly not enough, however, from time to time it can be a path where we simply encounter points for reflection…. Each of the following answers to questions I often hear should begin with the words “in my opinion” – so, dear Reader, do so on my behalf after each question….
- Plan is nothing, but planning is everything. What time period should a strategic plan be built for today?
It goes without saying that this depends on the area and scale of the company’s operations. Building a nuclear plant (or any other) must be associated with a long-term time frame. However, I assume that this question applies to small, medium and large enterprises, for which the conjuncture of several years may require drastic changes in strategy. Today, most of them should not plan for more than 3 years, as experience strongly suggests that an environment of chaos with today’s level of volume, pace and scale of change actually requires very strong adjustments already within the first year – and this is regardless of the industry.
- It the classic model of planning (vision, mission, planning horizon, main objectives, sub-objectives, projects and action plan) still recommended?
Absolutely not. This is the “Middle Ages” of business. Nowadays, planning is done on a scenario with the idea of gradually eliminating hierarchy in order to build the strategic agility of the company (or rather, its staff). A company – therefore – plans “more extensively” (variantly, rather than with a ‘single goal’ set) and then prepares to be ready for each of the variants – to survive and grow and – to be competitive. Key concepts that should also be part of the strategy are: anti-fragility, non-linearity, Pareto Principle, team selection and management with an awareness of generational differences and generational characteristics, analysis of team members and the team through the lens of Graves’ Spiral Dynamics, servant leadership, crisis management and managing a long-term crisis.
- For the past 40 years, a very popular business statement has been ‘cash is king’, meaning that financial liquidity is key in analysing a company’s situation and managing it. Has anything changed today?
Definitely YES. This slogan and its meaning – it occupies by far the stronger position among “what is crucial in business”. One of the pillars of managing in an environment of extreme variability (chaos) is redundancy – that is, intentional redundancy (strategic inventory). Adapting the company to be able to react quickly and make adjustments and changes is all about securing cash or access to cash. Many companies have already fallen over or lost their market position, precisely because of the lack of cash needed to adapt to the environment.
- Is digitalisation for business really that important – is it not the case that it is very important for a certain group of industries, but not for others?
Yes – and actually even more important. It is clear that here and now, situationally, one industry or company and its competitiveness depend on the introduction of digitalisation as an engineering that gives “to be or not to be competitive”, while others may still exist for a while “in the analogue model”, where “acting on foot” is still enough to stay afloat. But for these industries – now is the time to implement, test and learn the ‘new’. For those where digitalisation is key today – ‘starting it’ is chasing the competition.
- Is there a simple recipe for motivating an employee?
There isn’t. There is however, a simple recipe for demotivating them. Every human has the need to decide, to influence their reality. Part of them wants to decide the direction of their action, they want to ‘swim’ (swimmers) – if you take that away from them – forget about their motivation to cooperate. The second part – these are the people who don’t want to choose direction, but want to have a sense of decision-making about the area they are responsible for – ‘their desk at work’ (floaters) – if you interfere ‘with the order on their desk’ – you will take away their spirit of work and cooperation. In my experience – simply ensuring that decision-making is not taken away from the employees extremely often… results in a solution to the lack of motivation of the team and its members.
- Is money a motivator today?
Hidden in this question is the presupposition (assumption) that money has historically been a motivator. If so, this is a fundamental error in thinking. Money has never been, is not – and is unlikely ever to be the motivator. Money is certainly a motive for many – to get employed somewhere or get involved in something. Indeed, in situations of insecurity, money itself becomes the “engine of action”, but when we are talking about relative stability and getting out of the area of the “struggle for survival”, money has a little influence on being motivated. A couple of tips. The first – How does people’s motivation look two weeks before the raise compared to their motivation two weeks after the raise? It’s not likely to change, is it? Second tip. If I give you a raise but take away your decision-making power or treat you badly – will you be motivated? Herzberg put it simply: ‘salary is an element that can demotivate (when it’s too low), but will not motivate’.
- The world seems different today from, say, 30 years ago. Does this, therefore, require any fundamental change in the way we approach business?
Very and obviously – YES. The economics of chaos is otherwise known as an environment of enormous variability – unpredictable, rapid and surprising in scale. Building flexibility into a business organisation to date is no longer sufficient. Every flexibility has its ‘breaking point’. Hence, the notion of ANTIFRAGILE – the actual opposite of fragility – is beginning to break through in the business world (and beyond). It is a term describing such a state of the organism, or rather its value, which above all exists in this chaos drawing strength from its energy, from its variability, thanks to which this organism develops and gets stronger. It’s a bit like how a ship not only doesn’t fear the storm, but uses the variability and the power of the waves to sail better, faster, more confidently…. Imagine a scenario where you send a package to the post office and instead of writing fragile on it (that is, with a suggestion: be careful, because it is fragile) – you write antifragile actually inviting the package to be thrown around, to be pushed around – because for its contents, thanks to such treatment, it feels great and better and better…. Nassim Taleb in his book called “ANTIFRAGILE” points out five concepts that need to be implemented in order to build an anti-fragile organism: redundancy, optionality, positive asymmetry, the ‘less is more’ assumption and non-linearity.
- In a situation of extending or even evolving from one phase to another crisis – is participatory, democratic management and management that goes in the direction of levelling out hierarchically – really practical and advisable, as has been taught in recent years?
An extended crisis situation builds up a so-called “sinking ship syndrome” in the community. Indeed, in such a situation it is advisable for a leader to take the helm and introduce autocratic (not totalitarian!!!) management. The fear, the uncertainty of the crew must meet the firmness, the calmness, the decisiveness and the action plan of the leader. And that is one thing. The question, however, applies to today’s situation – when the economy of chaos resulting from the gargantuan growth and flow of information and activities – makes variability an everyday occurrence rather than a specific, crisis situation. It has been called the New Normal. And if normality, it’s not a crisis, is it? The key, then, today is to prepare the workforce (oneself first and foremost) to accept this state and to learn antifragile. With this assumption, participative, non-hierarchical management and servant leadership become key to effectiveness – above all in view of the dominant numbers of Generation Y and Z people in the market.
- What is the biggest threat to a business executive today?
The following statement often comes through: today, the most important quality a business person should possess is the ability to unlearn what he or she has learned so far and learn anew. It is clear that this is a kind of metaphor that cannot be taken ‘one-to-one’, but it is a strong indication. Humility in the face of such a changing world is fundamental to security and development. The anti-example – perhaps on a scale the most characteristic and clear-cut – is the business community of Western Europe, which owes its progressive and decisive economic degradation primarily to its failure to develop its knowledge and change adequately to the evolving world.
- How do we learn and develop today in view of such a drastic acceleration of change and its scale? Where to acquire knowledge and skills?
Certainly not in academic studies. The lion’s share of such education basically does not address what is necessary today to be able to “catch up with the present”. The foundation is to learn from those who are dealing with what is happening now. It is therefore crucial to read books, news – from fields that talk about business in a broader context than the industry. Literature produced by ‘gurus’ makes sense. The second source is the Internet – publications and even YouTube. Of course – this requires a certain criticality towards the existing mass of messages. Experience shows, however, that – with some in-depth study of the subject – interesting and practical information can be gained quite quickly. It is always important to remember that the key is to get this knowledge from people who are actual practitioners – we can verify that they have achieved something in their business life. Another path, in parallel, is to take advantage of short educational programmes – non-academic – but making sure they are run by the practitioners already mentioned and not just trainers who have only been training all their lives – because that is their recipe for life…. A third path – is to contact business people who represent their own outcomes – those who have been successful in practice and are always willing to share their knowledge – you need to be bold enough to approach them!
Krzysztof Sarnecki, President of Quest CM
As a professional negotiator, the author has worked with various organisations in the US and Poland in the area of crisis management, including training at the Kielce Preparation Centre for Foreign Missions of polish army soldiers leaving for posts with a high probability of crisis situations. Strategic consultant, expert in marketing and building market advantage for companies and change agent in the transformation processes of large and medium-sized companies. Practitioner, businessman, founder and president of the Academy of Business & Career Development in Chicago (with over 35 years of management experience), advisor and trainer to several thousand board members and managers, working with many leading companies in Poland and abroad in the fields of transformation, modern management and modern sales in the chaos economy. Creator of the first non-linear 5th Generation Sales. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies in Chicago and a graduate of the MBA programme of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management in Lake Forest, Illinois.
This article appeared in the December issue of the “Business HUB” quarterly.
You can download an online version of the issue: READ HERE.