Sep 302016

“In a world where stupidity dominates, looking good is more important than being right,” writes Professor André Spicer of London’s City University in Aeon Magazine.

Spicer and his fellow author Mats Alvesson described their results of studying dozens of organisations for their book The Stupidity Paradox.

What they found is the smartest don’t get ahead in most organisations, but those who conform with the prevailing culture which usually sets a low bar.

We started out thinking it is likely to be the smartest who got ahead. But we discovered this wasn’t the case.

Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste. Talented employees quickly learn to use their significant intellectual gifts only in the most narrow and myopic ways.

The tragedy is these organisations squander the talent of those working for them. In many respects management is destroying value rather than adding to it.

Probably the most dangerous type of organisation though are those run by managers who want to be leaders.

They see their role as not just running their business but also transforming their followers. They talk about ‘vision’, ‘belief’ and ‘authenticity’ with great verve. All this sounds like our office buildings are brimming with would-be Nelson Mandelas. However, when you take a closer look at what these self-declared leaders spend their days doing, the story is quite different.

Spicer’s article is well worth a read, if only to nod in agreement with many of the organisations and managers you’ve had to deal with in the past.

It’s worth reflecting how organisations are changing in an information rich age. While it’s tempting to think better access to data will improve their collective intelligence, it may be that algorithms only further entrench poor management practices.

Sep 022016

US retail giant is to slash 7,000 back office jobs reports The Wall Street Journal as the company looks to focus on customer service. The process that’s seeing those jobs lost are part of a bigger shift in management.

The automation of office jobs isn’t new – functions like accounts payable have been steadily computerised since the early days of computers – but now we’re seeing an acceleration of white collar and middle management roles.

As increasingly sophisticated automation and artificial intelligence increasingly affects middle management roles, we can expect further changes to organisations’ management structures.

The opportunity to streamline and flatten management will be something company boards will have to focus on if they want to keep their enterprises competitive and responsive in rapidly changes markets.

For managers, there’s a lot more disruption to come for their roles. Those stuck in 1980s or 90s ways of doing things are very much at risk.

Aug 182016

A common factor when talking to tech companies is their talk of disrupting industries, they themselves are not immune from change though.

This week networking giant Cisco announced they would cut seven percent of their workforce, nearly 5,500 employees, as the company deals with the shift to software defined networking equipment continues.

Industry commentators are warning Cisco are not alone as software and cloud based services change the tech industry with Global Equities Research’s Trip Chowdhry estimating the sector may shed up to 370,000 positions this year.

Today I had the opportunity to ask Autodesk’s Pat Williams, the company’s Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific, about the challenges facing companies transitioning to the cloud. At the beginning of the year Autodesk announced they would be cutting ten percent, over 900 jobs, as part of a structuring plan.

“I think there was a model that we had that as we moved to a subscription business that said we would see a bit of a drop in revenue and we realised our gross margins would be pressed,” he said.

“What we were trying to do was right-size the business,” Williams continued. “Sometimes you need to do that. It was a very intentional forward looking move we made.”

Autodesk and Cisco are far from the first tech companies to suffer from the software industry’s shift to the cloud. Microsoft have been probably been the business most affected by the change.

Cisco themselves have been dealing with this shift for a decade as well, with a major restructure in 2011 that saw 6,500 jobs cut.

What is clear in a transitioning industry is that Microsoft, Cisco and Autodesk are far from alone in making cuts. As Autodesk’s Williams points out, it’s probably best for managements to be doing this proactively rather than waiting for the changes to force their hands.

The stories of Cisco, Autodesk and Microsoft show all industries are facing changes. Assuming you’re safe in any sector is brave thinking.

Aug 102016

Twenty-four hours after the 2016 Census website collapsed, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ reputation is in tatters as the organisation blames hackers, denial of service attacks and failed routers for the debacle.

While there’s many lessons to be learned from this tale, not least the importance of getting your social media team on board, the key takeaway from this embarrassing saga is to show some public humility and not dismiss informed critics.

Technology was not the problem at the ABS, an arrogant management is what caused the Census collapse.

Given the poor accountability of Australian management it’s unlikely anyone’s career is going to suffer as a consequence of this debacle but it’s a further dent to the reputations of both IBM and the ABS. Quite frankly they deserve it, if only for their failure to listen to the community.

Aug 092016
how modern society deals with the roulette wheel of risk

“How are you going to manage, not stop, risk?” Asked John Suffolk, the Global Cyber Security & Privacy Officer of Huawei Technologies at the company’s ICT roadshow in Sydney today.

Suffolk’s message is one that should be heeded by all business owners, managers and executives in areas more than just IT security.

One of the conceits of the late Twentieth Century management philosophies is that risk could be managed out of business, partly through technology but mainly through legalisms that attempted to push liabilities onto suppliers, contractors, resellers and customers.

That philosophy still holds true in many organisations today, particularly government agencies, and it costs them dearly.

In truth, business is risky and trying to eliminate risk is a fool’s errand. How it’s managed is the real test for leaders.

Aug 072016
social media is about connecting with friends

“I cater to their crazy and the results are tremendous. Hire the crazy, because you need them. Those are the ones that don’t think outside the box, they burn the box and stomp on the ashes,” says Chris Pogue, Chief Information Security Officer at Nuix who I interviewed at the Black Hat conference at Las Vegas last week.

Chris was talking about hiring information security people and, as the attendees at the Black Hat and DefCon conferences show, show that philosophy is important in hiring good technology people who tend to be people who don’t recognise the boxes, let alone tick them.

That point though could be made for many occupations, many businesses that claim they value ‘creative thinking” should be thinking about burning the boxes.

In a much more competitive environment having management ‘thinking within the box’ may be one of the greatest disadvantages facing an organisation, not just in recruitment but also in identifying threats and opportunities.

Burning the boxes may well be one of the best things business leaders could do for their organisation in finding and cultivating the talent to compete in tomorrow’s economy.

Jul 142016

“A lot of companies are trying to figure digital disruption out,” says the Chief Operating Office of Infor, Pam Murphy. “For many companies they are seeing all this stuff and thinking ‘oh my god, what on earth do I do?’. They know they need to evolve and they know they have to evolve.”

Murphy, who joined Infor in 2011 after over a decade at Oracle, has seen a lot of that change. Infor itself embraced the cloud and in the company’s has been on an acquisitions spree as it seeks to expand its product offerings.

Having dealt with so many acquisitions – eight since Murphy joined five years ago – the company has become adept at absorbing new businesses. “It does require a lot of thinking that you’re going to be respectful of that,” she says. “A lot of stuff is easy to standardise but culture is difficult.”

Another area that Murphy doesn’t see as being standardised is in developing talent. “You have to be open minded,” she says in answer to my question about encouraging women into senior roles and increasing the diversity of senior management.

Murphy’s main advice to business leaders is not to shy from the business world’s shifts, “embrace the change.” She says, “don’t think of it as being something that’s scary and threatening, get ahead of it. Embrace the fact we’re in a completely different era.”