Thursday 10 June 2010
The focus on sustainability and sustainable practices is a self defeating objective. Sustainability means that business leaders take their eye off the equity holder’s value creation ideal, as it flies in the face of self-interest as promoted by Adam Smith some 234 years ago (The Wealth of Nations , 1776).
Self-interest and the pursuit therefore is being clouded by a multitude of other non value adding factors that is diluting the message and contributing to more uncertainty and risk and therefore capital flight and volatility in the financial and capital markets as we have experienced over the last 2 years.
This process and Zeitgeist will not disappear or be properly understood, unless we develop a deeper understanding and familiarity with uncertainty as a driver of the innovative spirit of human endeavour.
Risk management per se is not the answer and panacea it is held out to be, and if it promotes a more risk-averse society, then we are heading for the middle ground of mediocrity, tyranny and decline in social values and structures that have taken many hundreds of years to create.
Being part of the system with a myopic view, rather than standing outside the system with a holistic and reflective frame of mind is causing more damage than good.
Yet how are we to live and deal with the cognitive dissonance that these two views by the very nature induce?
Let’s open up to good honest debate, search and reflection, rather than to dogma and a narrow focus on defending vested interests and old world models.
We are in the midst of a major cultural, economic and world order paradigm shift and the outcome is uncertain, potentially destabilising, but we must embrace this exploration of uncertainty and chaos the will inevitably ensue.
Wednesday 9 June 2010
Competition is a good thing. Of that we are sure.
It is one of the key ingredients of a dynamic market process, yet is competition and the potential negative consequences of short-sightedness a means or an ends in itself?
Today we argue that the unfettered aspiration of competing for competition’s sake and the shedding of what is seen as non-core processes and competencies in organisation will eventually lead to sub-optimal performance and is an unsustainable practice.
In the unrelenting search for shareholder value creation, which is the fiduciary and main responsibility of the board of any shareholder / equity owned organisation, we believe that sub-optimal decisions are being taken, both because of target operating model enhancements and short-term return of investment (ROI).
One of the underlying objectives of International Harmonisation of Financial Regulatory Standards (as currently promoted by the IASB & FASB) is the desire for greater transparency and ultimately more regular and frequent reporting cycles. The view is that the greater the frequency in reporting, the less information asymmetry will be in the market, thereby eliminating insider trading and other undesirable ‘sharp’ market practices that regulatory bodies such as the SEC, London Stock Exchange, NYSE, NASDAQ, DAX, etc., are trying to stamp out.
But if we extend this logic, or rather shorten the current reporting cycles from the regular quarterly updates to say monthly, weekly , daily or even hourly updates, the already short-sighted mentality will become even more sharply focussed. And this begs the question: “How will CEOs and other business leaders have to ‘defend’ their decisions on a minute by minute basis under this unrelenting 24 hour news and sensationalism culture”; thus leading to an even more intense short term focus on their part. Certainly, this must be the worst of all downward spirals and tyranny of information overload?
But, by logical extension, this is exactly where we are heading in a decade or two’s time.
So, if the focus is then on more short-term results and ‘core processes’ where does this leave the current wave of outsourcing, off-shoring or near-shoring of non-core processes?
We contend that the already well established trend of ‘letting go’ of all non-core processes and competencies has a negative effect on the longer-term sustainability of the organisation.
Succession planning could already be outsourced and thus not on the board’s agenda, as recruitment consultancies now fulfil the non-core ‘attraction of suitable candidates’ services, with the traditional Human Resources fulfilling a more Risk mitigation / management functions of ensure compliance with Health & Safety Executive , employment law, equality laws, etc.
Another unintended consequence is the fact that because organisations more and more frequently utilise professional specialists to deliver projects and programmes, the esprit d corps is disappearing from organisational life. It is difficult for managers to gain this motivational force of esprit de corps when they are managing ‘virtual teams’ and a cadre of temporary service providers through dysfunctional processes of ‘on-boarding’, induction, project management, quality control, motivational traps, engagement, focus, etc.
Therefore, to conclude this opening article in a new series around the ‘new labour market models   ’, currently being practiced in the western free market democracies, let us ask the key question that is one of the foundations of the factors of production in achieving economic advancement:
“How do we recognise, incubate, nurture, develop and sustain talent and talent management in our organisation, when this critical activity is handed over to outside consultants who have a different business model and agenda to our corporate ambitions?”
We know that there are some ‘labour supply aggregators’ or forward thinking recruitment consultancies that realise that their own models of engagement has to change, in order for them to move into the value creation and value addition space, but there are still far too many ‘factories’ with conveyor belt mentalities out there. Not to let the corporate ‘talent managers’ off the hook, because if you don’t have people and processes in place to manage the talent anymore, you only have yourself to blame when the ‘transparency machine’ of financial regulatory reform forces you down the channel of short-term decline...
If ‘the Law’ is the codification of cultural norms and practices, does the Law then not inform culture?
Policy, social malice and engineering of social outcomes bend these laws into legislative blunt instruments designed to enforce cultural behavioural changes on a grand scale, trouncing the common law of good judgment, neighbourly relations and common sense and thus freedom in their wake?
Within the above question and assertion lies the ‘malice of the free market’; where misguided and misinformed regulation channels behaviour and economic interactions in directions and with outcomes not anticipated or foreseen. Thus unleashing the ‘law of unintended consequences’.
Take as an example the economic condition referred to as Moral Hazard.
A definition is:
Moral Hazard occurs when a party insulated from risk may behave differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk.
Moral Hazard therefore flies in the face of the principles of personal responsibility and thus accountability for our actions to a wider stakeholder community.
Is Moral Hazard perhaps promoted and therefore amplified by the fact that business leaders are not more formally educated in their fiduciary responsibilities?
Is this a function of weak or inefficient corporate governance structures and frameworks, or merely an oversight that is readily addressed by ‘occupational licensure’ or the professionalization of directors by only allowing formally qualified persons to serve on certain corporate boards?
Would this formalisation process of understanding fiduciary responsibility hinder the spirit of free enterprise and risk-taking or enhance the governance and risk aptitudes in a controlled and more channelled and focussed practice? Would it have as a positive consequence an amplifier effect for raising the corporate governance and Enterprise-wide Risk Management practices?