Tag: Culture

Evolution time.

Posted on 09/30/11 by Aidan

Darwin is famously quoted as saying “It is not the biggest or strongest that survive but those most adaptable to change”.  In biological terms its the idea that the organism that best adapts to the environment will survive best and therefore pass on their genes to the next generation. This ideology has been used in most competitive organisations for many years and is an adage used to improve flexibility and innovation within the organisation. For this the general axioms are reduce bureaucracy and encourage change mechanisms within the organisation so that adaptation can occur. In a competitive market place this means change or go out of business.

Evolution is at its most powerful when a defined enviroment gets squeezed, forcing competition. When there is loads of food, space and resources then Evolution slows down but when the pressure comes on its evolve or die.

In the current recession most competitive environments are adapting by cutting overheads, changing processes, getting closer to the customers and such. Some businesses are being clever and taking advantage by defining their niche while the competition is weak and instead of focusing on quarterly results at any cost are getting closer to customers and understanding them and their needs better and improving their processes so that when the gloom lifts, as it always does, they will find themselves positioned at the top of the food chain and the number one in their space.

Others are in survival mode – taking any bit of business that comes along in order to survive. So they try to break out of their niche to areas where they may not have a competitive advantage. Or take the long road to product diversification requiring them while at their weakest to learn a new skillset and a new market. For some this is necessary and there is a natural tension in this and decisions need to be made.

What however is to be done with organisations who are slow to react with rigid bureaucracy, an inflexible workforce and a culture that resists change.  Those without a very strong position in the market will die.  I am watching this in some organisations in this country with awe. Organisations who need to move fast and adapt have either management who cannot change or a workforce, possibly unionised, who are all about “us and them” and never “we” who argue  while their more flexible competitors (abroad) are eating their dinner.

Most interesting is the Public Sector who seem like rabbits caught in headlights and seem to be able to do nothing but CUT things. People. Services. Budgets. What about performance inefficiencies? What about getting more done with less by reducing the amount that needs to be done? What about mapping processes across departments? What about putting real managers into the Health Service for example? From outside the crazy culture that exists? If you get more done with the same people everybody keeps their job and the customers get their services and “everybody goes home with a balloon”.

The question arises – does Evolutionary pressure come to bear on the Public Sector Organisations – if they don’t shape up will they go out of existence. Well – no – in reality it does not apply. On an organisational level.  This is why it is sometimes it is prudent to privatize these organisations to allow their new environment to apply pressures that their current environment does not allow.

But what about Ireland Inc? What about the economic status of Ireland as a whole. The Public Sector Organisations are just parts of a larger whole. And so long as they are as they are and they remain as they are Ireland will suffer. Ireland is in an Evolutionary squeeze. Other more competitive entities are putting their hands up to eat our dinner while we are distracted with political expedience. Ireland Inc is in danger of dying out perhaps? I wonder if those who are focused on their own little territories and those who block improvements at the local level think of what they are doing in these terms?

Perhaps they should.

Aidan Higgins

First Published May 2009

Re-engineering the Downturn

Posted on 02/09/11 by Aidan

Back in the early nineties I was working with Business Process Re-engineering which is still current today if as part of other systems. It laymans terms it was a way of looking at a process within a company – for example how an invoice is processed – and simplifying it so that it takes less time, includes technology where possible and removes steps from the chain. It leads to efficiencies and better value for money.

Difficulties in implementation include the difficulties in crossing departmental barriers, getting people on board and retraining.  However in competitive adaptable organisations with the will to do so it can be achieved with spectacular results from lower costs, improved adaptability, faster time to market and quicker response to customer demands.

Looking at the Public Sector organisations we have in this country – I wonder has it ever been done. The strong us and them culture that exists, the “change nothin” policy, the slow adaptation of technology, the resistance to all things new (without compensation!) and the lack of will (from the top down) to change the status quo.

With the Political Turmoil at the moment there are a lot of ideas and promises flying around. However loads of glib solutions abound. There are cultural problems as well as organisational problems to be addressed. Cutting jobs is not the whole answer although cutting some is part of the solution. Stretching front-line staff to breaking point by refusing to replace those who leave or are on maternity leave is an idiotic solution.

Culture is first and foremost. You have to win hearts and minds. I wrote before about the Monkeys in a Cage

Researchers started with 4 chimpanzees in a cage (all having a great time I presume screeching, scratching etc) which are left to their own devices to form a group. A bunch of Bananas is then put on the roof of the cage and the chimps, naturally, climb up the cage to get the bananas. After a while the researchers started to hose the cage (and Chimps hate being wet) with water everytime they went for the Bananas. Of course it did not take long for our hairy cousins to figure out that going for the Bananas was a no-no. Being researchers, they then introduced another Chimp who when he saw the bananas immendiately went to get them with the resultant hosing of him and his cellmates. So the next time he went for the Bananas his cellmates stopped him. And this became the norm – every time a new Chimp was added and he went for the bananas the others stopped him. After a while the researchers stopped the hosing and eventually they had a group of Chimps who had never been hosed. And yet still they refused to go for the bananas and stopped any new member going for them either.

Sean Lemass warned after he set up the semi-states that they needed to be monitored closesly lest they become more focused on the interests of their employees than those of the country. Some of our best people are swamped by the culture that pervades parts of our Public Sector. Trying new things and trying to improve the system is frowned upon. Vested interests and power centres block change and will continue to do so while there is so little else there to reward people. Cutting jobs is part of the solution but only part. Cutting inefficiencies is the trick. Leave the systems as the are and cutting a job only leaves another poor soul with twice as much paper in his or her in-tray.  And a bigger bottleneck in the system.

To do this needs a change in culture. A better reward system and a happier more motivated more flexible group of people. Lots of international organisations have achieved this – why not here in Ireland in our Semi-States and public sectors?  Because of the us and them mentality, because top management are often appointed for their political affiliation rather than their abilities, because nobody in power wants to change.  We need more like Willie Walsh at the top. We need to treat our people better, to train them better and to be able to remove them from their jobs (managers especially) if they cannot do their jobs –  nowadays we promote the problem! Legislation exists nowadays to protect people and to keep it fair. So job cutters, budget squeezers everywhere – aim for smarter work, better efficiencies and try to have a bit of imagination! Less of the broad stroke quick fix solutions! And the “us and them crew” try and think of the interests of the country eh?

I once got into an amicable conversation with a man over a pint and we were getting along well and he told me he was the union rep for his sector.  Immediately interested I asked him something like “what are the main problems you see with the restrictions forced on you by the systems and bureaucracy you are forced to operate with”… for which I got a suspicious look followed by “jeasuss – you sound like you one of dem fookin management”.

And so it goes on…

Aidan Higgins

Recession Rubbernecking

Posted on 10/22/10 by Aidan

When I worked in London and drove around that horrid M25 Ring Motorway with about 100 Million other cars there used to be a term you would hear on the radio – “Rubbernecking”.

An accident on the motorway in say the clockwise direction would cause those going anti-clockwise to slow down to see what was going on on the other side. This would cause a ripple effect back through the traffic and cause it to slow and stop leading to incredible delays for up to 50 miles.

A friend of mine – a very intelligent fella called Alan Brown in Brown and Root Vickers, an Engineering Consultant, used to explain it in terms of flow mechanics and to be honest I never quite understood him fully. It was something to do with too much water (traffic) in too small a space and the ripple effect backwards.

I decided to invent the term the other day – “Recession Rubbernecking” – here we are with the help of some of the media rubbernecking at Anglo-Irish Bank, at Nama, at Bond Rates and such and so forth. There are people sitting around turf fires in villages in Ireland happily prepared to discuss Bond Interest Rates and Developer “Hair Cuts” and such. We are all staring at the accident – looking for Carnage.

Well don’t !

The Accident is fascinating. But looking at it and dwelling on it is causing a backlog, a compression which is slowing everyone down and stopping the momentum needed for recovery. Businesses are not selling, banks are not lending, jobs are slow to come back. Because we all have our eye off the road in front of us.  “Lets see how the Anglo numbers affect us first”, now “lets wait for the budget”, now “lets wait to see how the interest rates…..” meanwhile six months have gone by and we are holding our breath and standing still. We need movement folks. We need energy, industry and to get where we need to go.

Turn off the radio, switch the news channel, turn over to the life and sports sections. Look past the headlines. If you do look at one of these articles – do get the facts and draw your own conclusions. Don’t look at the emotive headlines and get caught up.  Then focus on the things you CAN do to make a difference to the things that are important to you, write them down and do them.  Life is about the six inches in front of your face. Getting through this is about being here and now. In the moment if you will.  Right here Right now you have the power to affect the things you can.

Aidan Higgins

Motivate Yourself First

Posted on 10/31/09 by admin


I recently gave a talk before Cavan County Enterprise Boards recent Awards Dinner on the topic of Motivation, with reference to the current economic climate. The reaction to the talk was extremely positive and also the feedback was particularly interesting.

I told the group that there are times I think when we forget the basics and lose ourselves in worry about things we don’t really need. This leads to suffering on a personal level that is not necessary and totally within our own control. Cutbacks and reductions can have an overly negative effect on us if we do not see that often these are necessary to moving forward. Often we attach meaning to things that causes us grief and worry. The way to address this is to sit down and think about what is really necessary at the end of the day and what of those things we worry about  are supports to our Ego rather than to our well-being and happiness.

Entrepeneurs and Small business owners in particular need to remain motivated and optimistic despite the current travails and to influence and motivate those around them as well. Someone once said “Sincerity is the secret – if you can fake that you can achieve anything!”. Well it can’t be faked, the people around you have a good idea whats going on really. So the feeling of motivation has to be real and come from within. Taking action every morning to bring a positive outlook into play by focusing on the positive things in our life can set the mood for the whole day. And bringing it to work influences those around us particularly small business owners.

The folks from Cavan had an interesting perspective. They reckoned the Celtic tiger hadn’t done much for them and so they didn’t miss it. “We never had too much around here anyway” they said and so we don’t miss it either. And this from as chirpy and cheery bunch of people as I’ve met. You know when you see what some have lost in terms of happiness and clarity in their lives its great to see that some have held on to what matters.

Aidan Higgins