Friday, February 04, 2011

A Wise King

‘A king with no advisors is king of ignorance.
A king with one advisor is king of bias.
A king who believes all-comers is king of confusion.

Years ago I worked for a very experienced Manager. He had a reputation for being strong willed and not suffering fools, and if you let him down or exposed him to trouble, you knew about it. He had many years of experience in the industry and you could pretty much say that he’d seen it all.

With all the experience and knowledge he still had an interesting habit. Every Wednesday, at the end of the day, he would sit down with the HR Manager and say ‘What do I need to know?’ and he would sit and listen. He listened to things that were not his favourite topic. He was not a fluffy kind of guy, he didn’t do the people stuff easily. But he listened and found out what was going on and sought the HR Manager’s counsel.

Over the many years since I have helped organisations re-structure and have seen many of the trends in that field. Outsourcing and insourcing come and go, the arrival of the COO and what that means for structure.
I’ve seen the trend to pull all your ‘service functions under one division with one manager looking after HR, Legal, Finance, Public Affairs etc to and its that one that I’ve been thinking about recently after a number of chats with CEO’s and MD’s. Many of these organisations are finding that the ‘Senior Team’ or ‘Executive’ is largely made up of the Business Unit or Operation Leaders, with the one head of ‘Shared Services’ and the CEO/MD themselves.
Any organisation is only going to be as good as the conversation that happens around that table. And whilst alignment is good, over-alignment caused by lack of balance is a risk for business.

I’ve always thought that one of the key roles of HR, Legal, Public affairs, Finance etc was to provide council and be the voice of conscience for their area of expertise. Not just a shared service function delivering functional transactional activity. So keeping these voices away from the executive table means the CEO might not be hearing everything that he or she needs to hear. Expecting the head of the shared function to do this is a risk too as there is no way that they can be an expert in all areas (and didn't you set up their role to create synergies and cost effectiveness, not to become an quasi expert in everything?)

I’m not suggesting that you restructure to create an executive of 12 so that you have all the subject matter experts at the table all the time. But a wise CEO finds ways of getting the guidance that is needed in balance and gives his/her councillors time to give counsel.

Just like my old boss, you might not like what you hear but what he knew was that not hearing it would mean that a problem would arise that you would like to hear even less.