Building a coherent business culture

By Kevin Appleton12 August 2014

Kevin Appleton, managing director of Yusen Logistics UK.

Kevin Appleton, managing director of Yusen Logistics UK. Kevin Appleton, managing director of Yusen Logistics UK.

I recently had occasion to give a short talk on “my business beliefs”. Whilst I would lay absolutely no claim to business guru status, and whilst I also recognise that there are a variety of styles that produce results, I thought some of those insights might be worth sharing with the IRN audience. If we have a coherent set of beliefs that we bring to bear on our work then it is more likely to build a coherent culture with which people can identify and to which they are pleased to offer their discretionary effort. So over this issue and the one following I’m going to share my seven key beliefs about business.

“Delivered and okay” beats “potentially perfect but still in development”

How many times have people (particularly, but not always, in larger companies) seen an IT project, or a new training programme, or a plan to improve workshop processes stuck in a seemingly endless process of development and refinement. Meanwhile the world outside is moving at quite a pace and there is the big risk that the thing you are trying to make perfect is hopelessly out of date by the time it finally gets deployed. Much better, in my view, to encourage rollout of solutions which are 80% of the way there and dedicate your energies to real time improvement and refinement of something that’s actually working.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

It is impossible to get where you want, if you don’t know what your destination looks like and the terrain that the journey must cover. When we have a vision (even a hazy one) of how we want the future business to look (its services, coverage, culture, systems, customer base, balance sheet) we are much more likely to be putting the necessary building blocks in place to get us there and are alert to when we are heading in the wrong direction. If we don’t have that vision then we just put one foot in front of the other, tossed around by each day’s events, and potentially end up at the cliff edge of irrelevance or insolvency.

Do the right things and the right things happen

It is absolutely right to pay close attention to hard, tangible results. These are what keep us in business – be they profit, cash, safety or quality measures. However, it’s also important to recognise that the numbers are an output of a process. It is the process that produces success or failure and not the numbers themselves. The “what and how” of business activity should be the area where management intervention and coaching is focused rather than an exclusive focus on “how much?”. I have been more encouraged over the years by managers who were facing real challenges but had a very clear idea of what was causing it and the necessary steps to put in place to get things on track. Much more worrying has been the person who was enjoying strong results, but had no real clue as to why. The worry doubles when the person believes that the results are the direct result of their personal genius and charisma.

Leaders (and functions) are here to serve, not to be served

If you are a business leader or are in a central business function then recognise that you are a cost drain on the business. If you don’t show up for work tomorrow then no-one will notice. If one of your drivers, or engineers or hire desk controllers doesn’t show up for work tomorrow then plenty of people (customers) will notice. Our job is to make it as easy as we possibly can for the important people (customer facing) to do their jobs for the customer well, and at a profit. Our job is not (unless it’s a vital step on the way to helping them get better) to control their every word and activity and have them spend significant parts of every day making us feel better about ourselves and justify our existence. We are there to serve our businesses, not to be served by them.

The next three key beliefs will be covered in the next edition of IRN. I’d love to hear any views people have on this subject in the meantime so I can reflect them in the next article. In the meantime, Happy Managing!!

The author: Kevin is former CEO of Lavendon Group plc and former Divisional Chairman of Travis Perkins plc. He is currently Managing Director of Yusen Logistics UK Ltd, non-executive Chairman of Horizon Platforms Ltd , non-executive director at Ramirent Oyj and non-executive director of the Freight Transport Association. To comment on these articles please email: IRNfeedback@khl.com

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