Monthly Archives: October 2013

The one with the lift and shift

I remember some years ago (it was the past, its distant, so dim I can’t see it) attending a workshop on strategy and how an individual can go about solving business challenges by applying strategic tools. It was like a mini MBA style thing but about £48K cheaper. At the end of the workshop the facilitator presented us with a list of things to try if ever blocked i.e. no solution was presenting itself. One of the things on the list was to imagine you are an alien arriving on Earth what would you think about what you saw (I always worry this has a profound effect on the behaviour of management consultants but that’s another post altogether).

Fast forward a few years and I was in Hong Kong for the first time and in getting in the lift to go up to our office (we were on the 39th floor) I was confounded to find no buttons in the lift. Instead you had to push the floor you wanted on a panel outside and the system then directed you to the appropriate lift car. I thought this was ridiculous until I stopped for a moment and thought about it and realised it was completely amazing.

The alien arriving on Earth would have no clue why there were people in every car going to the same floor but being split across multiple lifts all being stopped and started randomly dependant only on who had decided to use them. I remember thinking at the time it was a brave engineer or designer who pitched that idea at the meeting and thank god someone backed them.

Now we reach a few weeks ago and I am attending a conference (I was doing a turn) and met someone who work for a major airline. I won’t name them but they are British, formerly favourite now more flying and serving. They had run a form of internal skunk works to try to address the challenges of working with teams and individuals in remote locations and constantly shifting teams.

Of the two teams attempting to address the challenge the first team returned with what in 2013 is surely the teacher’s pet answer. It involved internal social networks, communities, blogs, video uploads – you know, all that good stuff we all think is the silver bullet to everything. My understanding is they got a pat on the back and a job well done. The second team however thought very differently.

The solution they came back with may even count as a *whispers* paradigm shift in the thinking. Rather than a new strategy and boat loads of tactical goodness they came back with a simple but systemic change. Stop thinking of head office as the team and everyone else as remote but rather realise that head office is the remote one and everyone else works together.

Having had the pain joy of spending some time with flight crew down route they are not sitting around worrying about the company strategy. They are usually spending high quality time exploring the locale, eating, drinking and generally being a very well bonded group.

Whether this shift in thinking actually leads to an improve in the operation of the airline is yet to be seen but whether it be the lift or the remote workers you’ve gotta love it when someone just flips the reality 180 degrees and looks at it completely differently. Haven’t you???

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The one with the second bite

So there’s an old expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’ which aside from a select group of enthusiasts and vampires I always believed to mean if you tried something once and it didn’t work then you’d pretty much leave it alone.

Which brings us to Mr. Timothy Cook, CEO of Apple and his hiring of FTSE CEOs to run his retail business.

It was only February 2012 when it was announced he had hired then Dixons CEO, John Browett, to run the retail side of Apple and it was only 6 months after he joined…that he left. It appeared his page from the ‘UK retail play book’ didn’t go down well with his fruity colleagues (he tried to lock it down and grind it out) and he escaped the infinity loop and headed into the Monsoon. I remember thinking at the time that this was a) a dopey move with the Apple retail brand and b) a brave decision by Mr. Cook in oiking Mr Browett out of the door albeit with a very very very soft landing.

I hold a lurking suspicion that whenever a CEO heads for the hills it’s usually because all known goodness has been wrung out and whoever follows is going to have to take a patient from life support to the high dependency unit where they will solider on for some time. I’ve referred to it in the past as the CEO hospital pass. That said, Seb James who took over at Dixons retail seems to have made a good fist of it – at least so far.

So if you’ve been anywhere near the press in the past 24 hours you will have noticed that Mr. Cook has exposed himself for yet another bite by hiring Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts to head his retail empire. Let’s put aside the fact that this leaves only 2 female CEOs in the FTSE100, a can of worms I am keen to leave closed and the fact that Ms Ahrendts is American. Is this going to lead to another large pay out or is it the smartest move Mr. Cook has yet to make?

You’d have to put money on the latter. Whilst Mr. Browett was a through and through retailer (most of his formative experience being gained at Tesco), Ms. Ahrendts has lead more brand driven outfits e.g. Liz Claibourne, Donna Karan Intl and of course Burberry. Despite numerous challenges to the Burberry brand (e.g. Chavs!) Ahrendts has driven the brand in two directions – up and out. Partnering with Creative Chief Jonny Ives Christopher Bailey she has strived to maintain Burberry as a luxury premium brand that happens to have stores. She has also driven expansion in international markets and taken the brand into new countries. This sounds far more Apple-esque to me…

I suppose if I’m honest the main reason I want this to work (and I do) is that I REALLY want one of these CEOs to actually leave on a high (Burberry have just posted very positive first half results) and that was seems like ordered succession (Bailey is taking over as CEO) to ACTUALLY work out. Not just to prove that the best laid plans of mice and men don’t always go pear-shaped or to restore my waning faith but just to prove it can work!

Oh and please please please tell me someone has bought Tim Cook one of these…

burberry iphone

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