12 principles of highly adaptable, ethical and performing organisations

innovation and management

As a member of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable (BBRT) I have been studying management activities that encouraged or impeded performance and adaptability in organisations.

Initially, it started out with the dysfunctional effects of budgeting. We all hated the budget, yet many companies go through the annual budget process religiously with nobody even questioning why we do it.

I started to question the value of budgeting when many of our units within the organisation start to claim that they could not carry out certain (seemingly important) tasks because of the lack of a budget. Whilst this is a shocking thing to hear, it is not uncommon. Listen carefully, and you will discover that this is one of the most common “excuses” for not being able to do things.

But as I investigated further, it was not just about the budget. It had to do with the whole interconnected nature of management activities, including the way the organisation is governed, the way people are made accountable, the way we motivate people and as well as the way we plan and control the organisation. There are twelve principles that fall into these categories of management practices. It can be found on the BBRT website as follows: http://bbrt.org/about/the-beyond-budgeting-principles/

We need fewer detailed rules, and more common sense

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been in debates with my colleagues on the subject and merits of detailed rules and procedures.

Many established firms such as public listed companies often document every single policy, process and procedure in manuals that rival the Encyclopeadia Brittanica in terms of comprehensiveness. This is often the standard practice in order to achieve ISO certification, and to for the firm to ensure that every single employee conduct their day to day activities in a predictable and standardised manner.

New employees need only to pick up the relevant manual and ensure that they fully understand and memorise what steps, templates, forms and people they need to work with in order to complete a certain task.

This orderly and predictable state of work activity seemed to work well with many firms for decades. And in fact, many firms institute controls and initiatives to ensure that activities adhere to the procedures manual and that variations in the processes are reduced.

This is a typical assembly-line type of work environment. Predictable work processes result in predictable outcomes (products and services) with minimum variance.

So far, so good.

Then, the technology boom happened in the mid to late 90s. Technology firms seemed to burst out from nowhere and suddenly started to take the market by storm. Companies such as Microsoft, Netscape, Amazon and Yahoo! started to win customers over with products and services that never even existed a decade earlier. Some of these start-ups reveled in the organised chaos of youthful employees and start-up culture. Anything and everything was possible. There were no limits to what could be explored and rules were broken everywhere.

As the world fast approached the year 2000 (“Y2K”), demand for updated technology solutions escalated. In the end, Y2K was a non-event.

Soon after at the turn of the millenium, the dot com phenomena imploded.

Only a few firms emerged unscathed. But a change in the business world had already begun. All of this enabled by technology and the fast proliferation of the internet and web based applications.

Companies such as Google and Amazon continued to grow from strength to strength. Microsoft, still the top dog then, struggled to make sense of how to deal with the new competition; whilst firms like Netscape, Yahoo! and a whole host of other technology companies fade away as quickly as they burst into the limelight.

Google led the technology rush and the internet continued to premeate into every home, office, school and places for human interaction. With a simple business model and easy to use technology Google became synonymous with the web and with searching for information and knowledge. But even mighty Google was unprepared for the next wave of internet revolution in social networking.

Early web 2.0 champions such as Myspace started to capitalise on the innate human need to connect with other people. Realising that humans loved socialising and sharing their interests, the likes of Myspace and YouTube raced ahead to be the early winners of the social media space. But even they had not expected a Hardvard student would start building what today is the world’s largest social network from his dorm room. Today Facebook has close to 800 million users (circa Oct 2011), and the likes of twitter garnering around 200 million users by late 2011. Together, Facebook and Twitter have been credited – rightly or wrongly – with a significant revolution in how people connect with each other and the speed of how fast news and information is distributed to a wider population. Both Facebook and Twitter have been linked to social and political revolutions in many countries.

Then the Global Financial Crisis (“GFC”) happened in 2008. This plunged the world to the edge of depression. The world has yet to recover from this crisis, teetering from one economic malaise to another. All throughout this, changes have been happening: Apple suddenly introduced the iPhone. Back from the brink, Apple became the darling of the industry and the stock market. It has disrupted the phone business, and to some extent the PC business with its iPads.

Today we are on another verge of a major change in the world as we know it. Crude oil prices plummeted, technology continues its breakneck pace of development, economic power is visibly shifting towards the east, social dislocation is happening, terrorists organisations creating fear, political power shifting towards the right… many of these changes pose unpredictable outcomes. We have no way of anticipating how to set rules for things we do not know. We will be in a state of flux, and in such situations more rules just doesn’t help. We need more common sense. We need to get back to our core, and universal values and work with this. Time to bring about positive change, rather than reacting to negativity.

Holistic assessment of children’s progress

 

Are exams the best way to help children develop?

This is a big question. I find that exams based assessment of a child’s development results in a narrow focus and thus, inadequately prepares the child for the challenges they will face many years later in life.

Exams based assessment – whilst are objective – only emphasises (i) academic knowledge; (ii) enforces rote learning; (iii) creates behaviours of studying (self learning) only for the exams.

The above 3 emphasis are becoming increasingly inadequate these days.

For one, academic knowledge is no longer sufficient. What is important is that children start to explore learning outside of what is covered in text books. The world today is moving so quickly that knowledge nowadays is everywhere.

Secondly, rote learning does not help children develop the skills to learn on their own, or to learn through discovery and experimentation. Rote learning emphasises that the answer is pre-determined.

Thirdly, learning should be a constant habit – and not something only needed for the purpose of passing exams. This constant learning habit is highly prized when the individual progresses through life when things are constantly changing requiring a constant unlearning and relearning.

So what is the alternative to measuring a child’s development?

In the first place, we need to ask why we are measuring a child’s knowledge etc? The goal of measuring a child’s progress is to identify areas the child is strong at and areas the child can be further developed.

Assessment of children’s progress should not be seen as a means to “rate” or “grade” them. It is more important to develop children than to grade them.

Once we have properly adopted this mindset, then we can move forward with the alternative assessment. But before we go into that, we need to also understand what are the qualities on which we wish to develop our children?

Some initial thoughts on the qualities we seek in children, and later as adults:

  • academic (of course)
  • attitudes & behaviours
  • values & goals
  • leadership
  • communication, collaboration, interaction
  • physical health – sports, outdoor activities
  • empathy – emotional & spiritual quotient
  • intellectual capacity – thinking, critique
  • action & discipline
  • creativity, innovation & art

Of course, the above list may not be entirely appropriate and may even miss out other qualities. But what is important, it needs to encapsulate the many qualities we seek as people as they grow older and attempt to make the world better.

The even bigger question now is how do we measure the child’s progress in the above qualities.

Remember, the measures are meant to identify strengths and development areas. Not to rate or grade.

There are already many psychometric & other tools to measure these qualities. We only need to use them on a more regular basis through the child’s progress through school to understand more about their development.

These tools can be utilised by both teacher and parents alike in order to gain a more balanced view of the child’s development.

Avoid gaming the system

Since, this assessment is not for purpose of rating or grading the child – it will mitigate the effects of “gaming the system”. In order to enhance the credibility of the assessment tools, we can build in self-regulating mechanisms to prevent a deliberate high or low score.

What is most important is that the child makes as much progress in their development: a high score on an assessment may mean that the child need not undergo specific tasks to develop further. A constant high score means that the child has a low record number of development / improvement exercises – which could look less impressive as compared to a child who is consistently improving.

Conversely, a deliberately low scoring may mean that the child will have to undergo a rigourous number of development / improvement exercises. Which could be both taxing on the child and the tutor.

I know this system is not perfect, but it is a starting point in building a self-regulating mechanism to prevent the child, the tutor and the parents from gaming the system.

To add further mitigation – external parties may be called into assess the child further using these tools (or a variation of the tools). The tools need not require a constant intimacy with the child, but can be assessed on the spot like many psychometric tests.

Other forms of assessment can be done in a similar manner of how role-playing games (“RPG”) players acquire experience points (“XP”) to upgrade their RPG characters. These can be related to the child completing certain academic and non-academic tasks. Points, badges and recognition can be given to demonstration of certain activities, behaviours etc – such as teamwork, leadership etc.

To achieve the above, technology can be used to document, record, and provide an updated scoring system as the child progresses. Now with mobile technology, these form of scoring can be done on the move and at the right moment the tasks have been completed by the child.

Training the tutors & developing the infrastructure

There will naturally be major changes to the tutors and infrastructure for this to happen. Therefore this will not happen overnight. Investment will be needed, incentives can be provided to the private sector to participate in driving the change by providing some of their resources – financial as well as human capital.

The tools are perhaps the items of least concern as many of these are already available.

Training can be quite minimal, as many of the tools come with its own diagnosis. However, should training be required – there are a large number of organisations that have employees trained in these tools. They can be roped in.

Implementation and moving forward

This post was not meant to be an answer, nor would it be correct. The goal is to initiate a discussion around this important topic. After all, education is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) economic multiplier.

The key thing for all of us is to start looking at our education systems and ask ourselves the question whether it is helping us develop more leaders, thinkers, doers and creators for the fast changing 21st century connected and borderless world?

Start with the qualities of people we want in our economy now and many years ahead – and then work backwards to design an education system that meets those needs.

Seth Godin on Tribes we lead

source – Seth Godin on the tribes we lead | Video on TED.com

Some of the most basic things regarding change is being able to influence small groups of like minded people towards a cause. these small groups can multiply the efforts towards change provided that the tribal leader steps up to the role and drives the vision.

This video perhaps tells nothing new, but today’s society and technology makes the possibility of tribal changes become a lot more effective.