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PURPOSE, PLANNING AND PEOPLE = PERFORMANCE! 4 P’S TO FOCUS ON IN THE HERE AND NOW

Matthew Emerson, Founder and Managing Director, Blackmore Four

 

There are many things in business that need attention ‘right now’.  Irrespective of what is happening around us, running a successful business is complex and demanding, and it’s easy to move from one critical priority to the next, believing or hoping that everyone’s effort is contributing to your business’ performance.

Right now, however, many businesses are trying to work out how to survive, return to profitability or, if you have had a positive COVID bounce, sustain levels of performance that may have only happened because of extraordinary circumstances.

The fundamental anchor here is business performance and defining what that looks like in the challenging and changing circumstances of your industry or sector.  Everything else has to be based on what you consider to be new, realistic standards of performance.

If you haven’t already, there is nothing more important right now than re-establishing the core of your business; why do you exist, where are you heading, how are you intending to get there and – this bit is critical – how do you ensure this is clear for people who work with you and that they are empowered to contribute to that journey?

 

Purpose

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea’ (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

I love this quote.  You do not have to know too much about ship-building (by all accounts a highly-skilled operation) to understand the point here.  This addresses the very heart of team and organisational performance – purpose.  More specifically, shared purpose.  Individual purpose may be guided by our personal circumstances, aspirations or needs and this may be a powerful driving force for personal motivation, but it is the identification of shared aspirations, common interests and issues of mutual concern that form the basis for productive, high-performance teams to thrive.

Although three quarters of employees surveyed by the CIPD say that they understand the purpose of their organisation, less than one third believed that the purpose was shared through the whole organisation.  So, how do you foster shared purpose?

  1. Employee Voice.  Ensuring people genuinely contribute to shaping but also reviewing how your collective actions are aligned (or otherwise) to your shared purpose.
  2. Language.  If people are genuinely engaged with the shared purpose, then the language associated with that purpose must reflect the team that it bonds.
  3. Storytelling.  Being able to tell stories of how actions align to purpose enable members of your team to personally connect with the meaning and importance of what your business is doing.
  4. Challenge.  It is important that people feel comfortable challenging each other in a constructive and helpful manner. Members of your team need to be able to identify and address action that contradicts your shared purpose.

 

Planning

I don’t think all enjoyable journeys need to have a specific destination but if your journey has purpose that can be defined by specific milestones or a destination, they you’re much more likely to be able to put together an effective plan of how to reach them.  Similarly with our businesses, if you want the effort within your business to be effective and to reach certain goals then firstly, you have to be very clear and consistent in what those goals are – especially when they have had to significantly change – and secondly, you have to dedicate some time and resource to planning the complex web of activity.

Planning isn’t the most exciting word and in many respects it’s not the sexy end of business, but just as we need to anchor our teams to a shared purpose, we need to provide some cohesion to our efforts in order to generate confidence of reaching our targets.  Business Plans, Financial Plans, Marketing Plans . . .  People Plans . . . the list may be endless.  I am not advocating planning as a form of procrastination but the activity of planning helps detect opportunities or threats to your business that might otherwise be overlooked and the outcome, even as a work in progress, can be the source of clarity needed when all around us seems anything but clear.

 

People

If you can invest time in ensuring the people who contribute to your business performance clearly understand and can engage with your ambition, then it is also critical that they are given the conditions, environment, tools and knowledge to be able contribute to the collective effort. That includes your employees but may also include your suppliers, partners, clients or customers. Whilst I agree with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s longing for romantic purpose, people also need to know where to find wood, know what a ship looks like and develop a range of technical and personal skills to enable them to be a valued contributor.  We call this empowerment.

Effective organisations allow each member of the team to contribute to decisions in a natural way that promotes idea generation, information sharing, involvement and accountability.

  1. Idea generation. People with an understanding of your business need time to think of new ways of working and you need to create a climate that allows people to generate those ideas.
  2. Information sharing. Ideas need to be shared, tested and developed through open and honest communication that brings the best out of those ideas and makes them useful for your business.
  3. Idea generation and information sharing may provide the content for effective decision making but if the execution of that decision is hoarded by a privileged few then employees will stop contributing ideas, stop contributing to decisions and you’re back to being ineffective.
  4. You are running a business so people within your organisation need to take accountability for executing decisions, changes or improvements in a timely, high-quality manner.

 

Summary

However you are defining your new standard for business performance, the ‘right here, right now’ demands a reinvigorated shared purpose, a clear and consistent plan and an investment in people to inspire, engage and empower them to be at their best.

 

 

Matthew Emerson is the Founder and Managing Director of Blackmore Four, an Essex based management consultancy working with leaders of ambitious businesses to achieve outstanding performance through periods of growth or significant change.

Starting his career at Ford Motor Company, Matthew has developed his expertise in Organisational Effectiveness in key senior HR, Organisational Development and Talent roles, predominantly in Financial Services (Credit Suisse, Barclays and DBS) and most recently as the Group Head of Talent and Performance at UBS AG.

Having worked in and across Asia for six years as well as having ‘global’ responsibility in a number of his roles, Matthew has an appreciation of international and multi-cultural working environments.  He also has a multi-sector perspective, having worked with organisations in Manufacturing, Healthcare, Education and Technology.

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Business

THE EFFECTS AUTONOMOUS DRIVING WILL HAVE ON THE TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS INDUSTRY

Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales Northern and Western Europe at SOTI 

 

‘Big thinking’ articles on how to disrupt industries from retail to healthcare have been so prolific in recent years that you would be remiss in assuming we have moved forward from the digital transformation era. Rather, it is important to think of these transformations as the natural extension of a technologically driven world, in which companies are constantly adapting to meet ever-evolving market demands and customer needs. As the pace of development in technological capabilities has increased, so too has companies’ access to technology. With this comes an expectation that companies remain current with the latest advancements.

 

Following the mobile-first era, the next stage in the evolution of digital disruption is the move toward robotics through the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI.) Once companies have integrated a comprehensive mobility strategy within their operations, we find them increasingly turning to “what’s next”; solutions that will give them an even greater advantage against competitors and help them stay ahead of the field. Machine learning is poised to meet that market demand.

 

The transportation and logistics (T&L) industry is at the forefront of this trend. An industry that may seem at first to be traditional and unchanged by technology over the past half century, has been among the earliest adopters of disruptive technology.

 

Autonomous trucking is the next frontier for the transportation industry. As larger enterprises move away from traditional practices, smaller organisations can follow and benefit from the mainstream acceptance of autonomous technology. This can be seen in areas such as:

  • Monitoring, information sharing and exchange across remote devices
  • Management of mobile devices, remotely, which can eventually be applied to powering and controlling autonomous devices
  • Remote support
  • Performance data and analysis

 

The numbers make the case. In the UK, 1.44 billion tonnes of goods were shipped via heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in 2019, which is an increase of 2% when compared to the year before. Global e-commerce sales are set to reach $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) by 2021, driven largely by lowered consumer costs for online shopping and the ease of ordering online for everything from fruit to furniture. This trend is not likely to decline, especially as many are looking to limit in-store interactions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be difficult for transportation and logistics companies to ignore the financial benefits of automation alone.

 

Evidential benefits of automation within the supply chain and operational practices already exist. This can be explicitly seen in Amazon’s famous robot warehouses. These IoT-enabled robotic devices can sift through packages faster than humans can. They can work anywhere and under pretty much any condition, which is why they have been employed within the supply chain to speed up delivery and enhance the end-customer experience. The Amazon example indicates that as technology advances, adoption is likely to surge.

 

When turning our focus onto delivery services, we are seeing incredible interest in autonomous trucking, which has the potential to deliver faster, more predictable and more reliable service. These benefits do not negate the valuable role humans will need to play in overseeing quality control, providing support and conducting data analytics functions to aid in further innovation.

 

Prior to implementing full-scale autonomous trucking, shippers will need to ensure that the management and assessment of a connected fleet meets jurisdictional and federal legislation in addition to minimising cybersecurity risks. High levels of connectivity often translate into greater security risks, and companies will need to prioritise security to ensure systems are built with cyber resilience capabilities and can respond quickly in the event of a cyber breach.

 

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Business

ACCOUNTANTS HAVE BECOME CRITICAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF BUSINESSES AND THEIR REPUTATIONS DURING COVID-19

Stuart Cobbe, Director of Growth, Europe, MindBridge

 

The opportunity for fraudulent activity to flourish as finance departments operate remotely with less oversight in these extraordinary Covid-19 times is inevitable. Government loans and financial support have been given out with little or no accountability to businesses that are struggling with the change in their trading environment and as a consequence businesses find themselves in financial need.

There is already evidence of corporations handing back furlough grants as HMRC offers a 90-day amnesty, but without rapid data-driven insight and risk stratification, businesses may not know the extent of their exposure. Indeed many businesses face the daunting prospect of repaying loans at the same time as paying deferred VAT early next year in a far from certain trading environment. Stuart Cobbe, Director of Growth, Europe, MindBridge explains that the role of the accountant has now become critical to businesses and their reputations.

 

Unlocking transparency

The Covid-19 landscape is fluid and ever-changing, and businesses require accurate visibility of all aspects of their business in order to plan effectively for the future and to understand their financial position. As the economy continues to recover to a new ‘normal’, companies need to focus on the next 6 months. How many ‘zombie’ businesses are only operating due to deferred VAT payments? How many companies will fail when they cannot repay loans? The role of the accountant is vital in unlocking this transparency to provide data-driven, actionable insights.

After all, there are many questions around how government financing has been used, from grants to loans, furlough payments to VAT deferments. As of the 20th September, the total cost of furlough claims has reached a staggering almost £40 billion, despite 30,000 applications being rejected, with many likely to have been attempts to defraud the taxpayer. Research by economists from Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich universities found that as many as two thirds of furloughed workers continued to work.

For businesses that do not understand the extent of their exposure, they risk facing a HMRC-imposed tax charge equivalent of up to 100% of the grant to which any recipient was not entitled and was not repaid. It is, therefore, interesting to see the number of large organisations now publicly revealing plans to repay all furlough payments. For many, this is an opportunity to boost corporate reputation and demonstrate a commitment to rediscovering business as usual. However, given the huge pressures businesses have been under in recent months, many CFOs and FDs may not have the full visibility they require to effectively manage this without the power of audit.

 

Financial Risks

This is about far more than reputational damage, the potential misuse of furlough is far from the only financial risk. The extraordinary shift in every business’ modus operandi over the past few months has opened the door for opportunistic fraud. New sources of income; staff working from home with limited oversight; the financial pressures – both business and personal – created by the recession. The misappropriation of assets should be a very real concern for businesses of every size.

For organisations that have relied upon grants and loans to survive, an employee exploiting the lack of oversight to syphon funds for personal use could tip the company into failure. Companies must determine how – or whether – deferred VAT payments and loan repayments can be made. Is the company truly solvent or no more than a ‘zombie’ business operating with a balance sheet propped up by short term government finance?

 

Actionable data

Business resilience and reputation is a priority in this era, and CFOs or FDs may be struggling to establish trust across businesses now operating under a whole new range of pressures, from slimmer margins to a disjointed, remote workforce. There is an obvious need for complete visualisation of financial risks, and accountants play a crucial role in unlocking this data.

The rapid identification of mistakes in government support applications, potential fraud and the analysis of which deferred payments and loan repayments can be made and when – whilst ensuring other risk factors do not jeopardise business stability – is essential to futureproof the business, and accountants can assess data to provide this information in a complete and actionable format to lead smarter company decisions. This is the data insight CFOs and FDs need today.

Traditional financial risk assessment models will not be adequate. At best, problems will be revealed months after the fact. Companies need rapid identification of areas of unexpected activity today. This is where accountants and finance departments using sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques can deliver real business value by rapidly assessing financial data and surfacing unexpected activity. Armed with this information, finance teams will know where to focus activities, the questions to ask and the remedial action to take. This information will drive departments and remedial action to ensure business success and growth as the nation gets back to its feet.

In short, accountants and finance professionals can provide the answers businesses need today, whilst helping managers to plan for the future effectively, despite the changes in policies and protocols as the pandemic continues to throw curveballs. An audit can quickly identify problems including but not limited to, cash flow, fraud, misuse of grants, loan repayment issues – all whilst offering the guidance and steps to safeguard the business to promote resilience and protect the solvency and reputation.

 

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