Practice Tip ' What went right?

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I've done some due diligence work recently. This required me to read a pile of board minutes. And what a depressing read they were, by and large.

Putting the formalities aside it was clear from many of the board reports that what the company in question spent most of its time doing was looking at what went wrong. As a due diligence exercise this was not good. It gave the impression of a management focussed on the past, who rarely got things right and weren't always sure what to do about it. Despite which someone wanted to buy their company.

The reason why they wanted to buy is that they saw the potential to make more money out of the business than the existing owners did. That, after all, is the win : win logic of takeovers.

So why couldn't the existing management and owners see that potentia...

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07th Nov 2005 17:04

I’m often bemused by what people say in comments on this site. But Alastair Harris is really trying to take some sort of award for the comment below.

How can he not know what I mean by saying “"People from top to bottom (especially at the top) don’t feel good about what they’re doing – and I suspect that’s in large part because they can’t remember the last time someone said they’d done something well."

Alistair, here are some of those feel good comments:

“Well done”
“Thank you”
“Good job”
“You’re a star”
“I appreciate that”
“Smart move”
“You deserve the credit”

Do you get my gist? It’s about one person telling another one that what they’ve done is good, and that fact has been appreciated.

Alastair thinks this is communicated by bonuses and promotions. Which, I’m afraid, shows just how out of touch he is with the reality of life. People don’t mind promotions or bonuses, but they’re far from what makes them happy. Being appreciated is what makes people happy: it gives them a sense of well being and lets them know they’ve done a good job, and so encourages them to do the same again.

My guess Alastair is either MD of a company or a partner in a firm – just the people who I say can’t recall the last time they were appreciated by anyone, and so forget for that reason to use this technique. Well if you are Alistair, I’d try it – it’s a lot cheaper than bonuses or unnecessary promotions. And will earn you a lot more in the way of staff morale, which pays dividends by the bucket load in my experience.

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07th Nov 2005 13:17

head in the sand!
whether they concentrated on what went wrong or what went right, they are clearly guilty of looking backwards. So perhaps they got the balance wrong, but would it have made much difference? Feedback is necessary for success, but not sufficient.

To my mind a more strategic view would be reflected in board minutes by evidence of regular consideration of what customers and competitors and markets and suppliers (etc) are doing now, and what they might be expected to be doing in the future, and what actions are to be taken now to respond effectively to the changing environment.

"People from top to bottom (especially at the top) don’t feel good about what they’re doing – and I suspect that’s in large part because they can’t remember the last time someone said they’d done something well." This is the bit I have a problem with. WHAT ON EARTH DOES IT MEAN?

There are good ways of communicating success - bonuses and promotions are the obvious signs - and there are other more subtle ones. But personally I would recomment being cautious of "feel good" schemes.

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08th Nov 2005 09:08

real world
please feel free to call me a cynic Richard. I admit that I am one! the comments you list are fine, and an everyday occurrence in the world I live in (not a partner nor an MD unfortunately?). But they are tempered by a different list - in star wars terminology "the dark side". As a colleague and good friend of mine always says, "you are only as good as your last failure".

The world I live in is much more complex than the one that you describe Richard. People thrive on a diet of innuendo and gossip. They don't listen to what people say, but rather what they think they are saying - they read between the lines, they listen to the context and the nuances. It makes for fascinating stuff - its called life!

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03rd Nov 2005 17:37

Yes and no
Where I'd disagree is tipping the balance the other way. But I agree that we can learn a huge amount from studying best practice process and execution.

I did like the bit about 'not feeling good about what they do.' Daft as it sounds, many will baulk at the idea of not having fun while working - after all, being a professional is a serious business. (hehe)

But then the gazzillions of readers of Practioners' Diary or Born Dull will disagree vehemently. They want to see the lighter and better side.

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03rd Nov 2005 14:05

I agree with Dennis
But surely to concentrate on process error alone is unhealthy?

It has to be done - but looking at what went well might highlight where and how good processes work - and that is how the lessons are learned to deal with the problems.

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03rd Nov 2005 00:20

Great idea but...
I'm sure we'd all love to attend meetings where everything that's going well is discussed. I'd enjoy that kind of meeting. The fact is that when things go wrong, it's usually a process related error. And businesses that don't solve process problems usually end up in trouble. Shell, Abbey, JP Morgan and KPMG are four that readily come to mind.

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08th Nov 2005 13:45

My real world
I'm sorry you live in that world Alastair. It must be very depressing.

You don't need to. It's in part your choice.

Let me share something with you from my real world - an email received an hour ago

Hi Richard

Thank you so much for this - and turning it round so quickly - you're a star....



What went right - well I exceeeded the client's expctations quite clearly - that's what went right. It was my choice to do that. It has its rewards.

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