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Recovery from set backs

User Avatar Blogger . 09/07/2010 09:43:02
Recovery from set backs - Photo taken by Carey Baird

By Dr Pat Tissington, Associate Dean Business Partnerships, Aston Business School

We have all been there - our employer is suddenly hit with some bad news. The market crashes or our main customer decides to go elsewhere or there is an accident at the plant. Perhaps the public sector organisation we work for suddenly has to change the way it operates as government policy changes. Indeed at the moment, the public sector seems most likely to experience these sorts of major Organisational challenges but the private sector has traditionally had these to cope with as markets and economies shift - just ask suppliers to the motor industry in the midlands. But I have been prompted to think about this by the performance of the England football team in the world cup - yes I know it is still a bit raw but there is a learning opportunity for us. Here's my take on the learnings (horrible word I know but one which is becoming a substitute for lessons - not sure if anyone can tell me what the difference is? But I digress)

I am no football expert but one thing which struck me was the way the England team stuck to it's single game plan. Translating this to the world of work, the world about us is changing at a breath taking rate so we need to have multiple ways of response to shifting external conditions. We need to be able to flex our organisations to exploit new conditions and ditch old ideas when they no longer work. But how do we do this and maintain some coherence to our strategy? How can we be flexible but at the same time true to what it is we stand for as an organisation? Let me give you an example. I expect you know how Nokia turned itself from a rubber and timber business into a mobile phone giant? But there are examples closer to home. Could a motor manufacturer turn itself into a multinational builder and plumbing merchants? This is what happened to Wolsley - admittedly over a period of decades but nonetheless a fundamental change of direction. This sort of change is a massive risk - take the example (again local to the West Midlands) of Marconi. A well established business and world leader in the Defence electronics area - especially Radar. In the 1990s, a new management team decided to take a risk and re-positioned the business as a consumer telecoms supplier. Sadly this move happened at the time the dot com bubble burst and had a disastrous impact for the business which has in effect ceased to exist.

So, my take on this is to be sensitive to how markets are changing - and be ready when the conditions shift. For example at Aston we have been planning for the cut in government spending on universities for over a year now. We still don't know what the real cuts are going to look like but we are as ready as we can be and have plans for a number of scenarios. I don't have sight of precisely what these scenarios are but, if they are well thought out, they will contain radical plans when appropriate but also clear ways by which we can maintain our core values and be true to our heritage. The lesson for the England football team? In short, if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got. Keeping the same structures, the same management team, the same ways of working is pretty inevitably going to give the same results. Why not take the opportunity to think radically - why were our players so tired? Was there a better playing formation? Should we have been prepared with a wider range of tactics? Was language an issue between management team and players?

Still, there is one crumb if comfort. At least we didn't go out on penalties again!

This post first appeared on Dr Pat Tissington's blog for the Birmingham Post on 7 July 2010

To read further blogs please visit the Birmingham Post's Business Blog

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  • At 15:07 on 20/07/2010,
    Richard Reeves wrote:
    "...learnings (horrible word I know but one which is becoming a substitute for lessons - not sure if anyone can tell me what the difference is? But I digress)"
    'Learning' is a gerund (a verbal noun, derived from the verb 'to learn'). These aren't made plural, unless people now go for walkings and runnings rather than walks and runs.
    Consequently, learnings isn't a valid substitution for lessons, as it's not a word.

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