The Blog


In many of the weekend papers, there was mention made of Rogers Communications Inc.’s new CEO Guy Laurence, and his views on how he plans to improve customer service. It’s no secret that Rogers has faced a barrage of negative feedback regarding its customer service. Mr. Laurence’s stated goal is to fix that.

During an interview Mr. Laurence was quoted as follows:

“When you’re creating accountability, removing overlap, then it takes less people in management so there will be job losses at the management level.” He continues: “But on the frontline, I expect investment will grow.”

Finally, a CEO who recognizes that accountability flows from the top down!

Guy Laurence understands that where accountability exists, gaps and compressions in management are more easily identified. This leads to a recalibration in the number of managers. It’s not a simple across-the-board ten per cent reduction – it’s a deliberate review of the value that each manager brings to the organization.

In my book, How Dare You Manage? I explain how a corporate should downsize. The bottom three levels of any organization remain constant, and these are the frontline staff, their managers, and their managers’ managers (also known as directors). Once the core function is identified, the desired capabilities for frontline staff are identified, and each frontline team is given a manager.

If downsizing demands the removal of a level of work, this needs to take place at the top, and not at the bottom. I am encouraged by Mr. Laurence’s mention that more investment will be made at the frontline!

Nick Forrest

Elections are in full swing from coast to coast in Canada: federal by-elections; provincial elections; and what promises to be an exciting municipal election for Toronto. So far the only candidate who has resonated with me is the leader of the Ontario Green Party, Mike Schreiner.

It’s because of what Mr. Schreiner said in a recent interview: “Queen’s Park should represent honesty, integrity, and good public policy to the people of Ontario. Instead it means boondoggles, shell games, and empty promises.”Well put!

It comes therefore as no surprise that GfK Verein’s 2014 study, “Trust in Professions” uncovered that the least trusted profession is that of politician – in 23 out of 25 countries surveyed. (Insurance salesmen and traders scored lowest in the remaining two countries.)

If you work as a firefighter, you can pat yourself on your back, as this profession scored extremely highly in all 25 countries. And how did business people do? For Canada, the trust score for “businessmen, entrepreneurs” was 66 per cent; for “insurance agents”, 56 per cent, and for “advertising specialists”, 38 per cent.

CEOs who head corporations are tasked with engendering trust – for themselves, for their product, for their employees, for the shareholders. Trust in one’s top manager translates to success: sales are steady and/or increase; the employees are willing to stick around; the work environment is pleasant and innovation is encouraged. Best advice is freely given and received.

These CEOs know about, value, and practice the Craft of Management.

On the other hand, CEOs who are perceived to be untrustworthy face a Sisyphean battle.

Senior executives do have a choice. What is yours?

Nick Forrest

I had dinner earlier this week with a good friend. Over appetizers, I asked him how the new CEO of his company was coming along. His response was devastating: “Well, they say he’s very smart…”

Whenever I hear that, I know immediately that something is not right. A few more questions elicited more detail and the evidence started to mount. Apparently the new chief executive has a habit of micro-managing, and this is causing real pain for the employees at large.

An example: the company has a charming perk of supplying a free catered breakfast for all employees at the start of the week. It’s a way to recognize the workers’ efforts and long hours. The company receptionist organizes it; it’s one of her accountabilities. But now the new CEO wants to get involved and formalize the process. Accordingly, meetings are being held, processes are being discussed and implemented, and what used to be a weekly 30-minute task all of a sudden has become complicated and driven from the very top.

I asked my friend what was his company’s strategy. He said he had no idea; although he’s on the senior management team, this valuable information had not been revealed. I suspect there is no coherent strategy! Instead, the chief executive is wasting his time on organizing a breakfast.

Micro-management is a symptom of a bigger problem: it indicates to me that the executive is not capable of the work he or she is supposed to do, and instead prefers to dive down into the work of their subordinates.

Managers, let your employees do their work. You should be doing yours.

Nick Forrest

It’s been a busy week for corporate mergers. Two of note are the one between cement makers Lafarge and Holcim and another, between mining giants Barrick and Newmont. While the former completed successfully, the latter did not. In both cases, corporate cultures were cited in the media as influencers in the outcomes.

But what is corporate culture? When pressed, employees might resort to describing it as the way they interact with their fellow workers. It’s a set of rules, either unspoken or formally recorded, that pushes us to act the way we do in our work environments. We might refer to a company as having a “work hard, play hard culture”, or an “accountability culture”.

What drives these behaviours? Structure. A corporate culture does not spring into being, unformed by outside factors. Instead, it is a direct result of the type of structure that has been decided upon by the CEO and cascaded down through the levels of the organization.

In the case of Swiss and French construction material companies Lafarge and Holcim, “the strong complementarity of their portfolio and the cultural proximity between the two companies” allowed the merger to occur. I believe that the two companies had sufficient similiarity of structure to permit the merger talks to proceed.

With regards to the failed Barrick-Newman merger, there were apparently various points causing dissension, many relating to matters of structure. It became clear very quickly that if agreement to resolve these could not be reached, talks would not continue and ultimately broke off.

It will be interesting to see in the months ahead, once Lafarge-Holcim deals with anti-trust objections, what the new combined structure will look like, and the effect of this on their corporate culture.

Nick Forrest