Around the world - Quick, hide the agenda!
Adredour, Pitlochry, Scotland: In these days of the information superhighway consultants have options open to them unheard of even five years ago. Why sit in some boring, box-like office in Battersea when you can, for example – with a little investment and imagination – live in a beautiful part of Scotland? If you get the added bonus of the world’s smallest whisky distillery within bottle-throwing distance so much the better. Indeed, the only downside is when you discover that the liquid gold product belongs to a French company. These days you shouldn’t read the label before buying, but take your personal copy of the Who Owns Whom directory to the supermarket with you.
Remember all that fuss about boycotting French produce during their nuclear tests in the Pacific? All my friends started buying Australian and Californian wine. I had fun pointing out that they had just enriched the coffers of Louis Vitton, Moet Hennessy amongst others.
What that teaches us is that we really need to know the reality of what we are dealing with, not the perception. And that brings me back to Adredour: not to the distillery, but to the fine old house next door; within which resides an uncommon consultant. A man who likes to think things through before he says too much. A man who really believes in a whole lot of reality and NOT a great deal of hype. A man who can – if allowed – give consultants a good name.
All the same, consultants worried about the slipping fortunes of business process reengineering (BPR) and knock-offs of super-fads like Fifth Generation Management and the Seven whatevers that successful managers are supposed to do, may think that with a bit of work, a few mirrors and a lot of smoke they may have a new product here.
It’s called managing the real agenda. Here’s how it works. Consider the following. Most organisations, when they plan for the future, are supposed to be looking ahead. OK you can’t look that far ahead these days (some say about the end of next week!), but let’s say three years.
So what do you do? You call a meeting, a planning session, a strategic restructuring group.
And what happens ? What do your best and brightest bring to the table? – I’ll tell you.
What they bring is history with a capital D as in dinosaur. What they bring is a very good understanding of yesterday. But what they don’t bring is a knowledge of the present – never mind tomorrow. Why? Because their market studies, their awareness of the changes in this fast-paced world are seriously out of date.
What they also bring – your tough, hand-picked, top management team – is the other agenda. The one they hone to a fine blade, that can cut like a scalpel through other – less well reasoned – arguments. It’s called the hidden agenda. You have one, I have one, everybody has one: only problem is, no one admits to it.
So what’s the result to all this? Well, you end up planning on a mix of two opposing ideas, neither of them in any way productive. In the first you have an agenda, which everyone has contributed to, but it is based on yesterday’s knowledge. In the second you are out for everything you can get, for you, your people, your piece of the business.
You end up managing your business armed with excellent statistics that are no longer relevant to anything you are trying to achieve.
But, inside all of us there is that other agenda – that real agenda.
Creating the real agenda – the one that does help you manage the future – starts with honesty and a blank sheet of paper. It means that all of us own the same real agenda and we don’t bring it with us to the meeting. We begin the meeting with setting out the agenda, based not on what we know, not on what we want, but what really meets organisational needs.
Having trouble getting a grip on what is needed here? After a hard day’s planning for the future in some executive retreat, you all end up in the bar at midnight. The conversation at that point, after 15 hours of yakking finally hits reality. That’s the point to start – not the time to go to bed.
What you need to know is not how they manage it now, but what they dream – what they think they can aspire to, what the organisation can aspire to.
The real agenda isn’t written down in your company yet, the agenda for managing the past is, and so are all those hidden agendas of everyone around the table. If you want to grow and prosper, if you want to revolutionise how all of you think, tear up your agenda, put a cancellation order on all those personal needs and aspirations and book yourselves into a bar at midnight.
There are a few around here: the Scots are creative in their licensing laws. But, in case you have difficulty, call the man who told me a lot of this. His name’s Tony Hodgson and he does live beside Scotland’s smallest distillery and it is owned by the French. His only hidden agenda might be that he would like it to be Scottish once again – but he’s not wasting time planning for that either. He’s too busy teaching real corporations, which don’t want to manage tomorrow with yesterday’s knowledge and ideas, that real agenda. Try it – I’m told it works.
– Mike Johnson is president of Johnson & Associates, a corporate communications firm in Brussels and author of Getting a GRIP on Tomorrow and Managing in the Next Millennium.