The Blog


Recently, it was announced that Galen Weston, Executive Chairman of Loblaw Companies, has also been appointed as President and is taking over the daily operations of the business.  I cannot think of a better way to muddy the business waters and create obstacles to the smooth functioning of the company.

I firmly believe that the roles of Chairman and President should be separated. Here’s why:

1. It concentrates too much power in a single role. How can one person be accountable for both the oversight of the company as well as its day-to-day functioning?

2. One person as President and Chairman creates potential for conflict of interest. The chairman protects the interests of the shareholder, while the president manages the business. This often creates a healthy tension between the two roles that helps police them.  That can’t happen if one person holds both positions.

3. There is simply not enough time in a day for one person to fulfill both roles. How will he decide which “hat” to wear? Will he end up delegating and/or abdicating the bulk of his accountabilities due to time constraints?

Now, in addition to being chairman, Galen is accountable for managing and maximizing the performance of 135,000+ employees. This in itself has got to be more than a full-time job and does not need any other distractions. Either role in a company this size is hugely complex and time-absorbing.  The president’s role itself will be busy overseeing the integration of Shoppers Drug Mart into the Loblaw business. How will he apportion his time?

As President, Galen will have a lot of strategic thinking to do.  How will he ensure it is integrated across all of his reporting functions? How many store and location visits will he have time for? How will he plan his days? And during Board week, will the business take a back seat to board meetings? It all sounds like too much of a stretch.

In the long term, it could compromise the health of his business.

Nick Forrest

I had the pleasure of conducting a course this week on coaching. In the audience were 20 smart, motivated, and keen managers – some new to the role, some experienced. Many of them told me: “We’re told to coach, but no-one has given us a framework on how to do it.”

This was a common refrain of managers 30 years ago, and it’s still cropping up today. (“Coaching” may have been called “supporting your employees” back then, though.) I believe that managers are under even more pressure today to coach their direct reports, but are given no training, no support, and no time to do so.

And when managers do find the time to coach their employees, they are often not recognized for doing, well, what they are supposed to do.

But establishing a coaching culture in an organization is the most sure-fire route to engaging employees and achieving high performance.

Don’t agree with me? Consider these points:

  • coaching builds capability at all levels of the organization
  • through coaching, a manager has the opportunity to clarify the organization’s vision with the employee and get them to buy into it
  • through coaching, a manager can address issues regarding goal execution, performance, and innovation

Some managers fear those difficult conversations required to improve performance. But it’s part of their job! So, managers of managers, talk to your people about coaching. Determine a framework on how to get it done. And support your managers with resources, time, and recognition when they get it done right.

Nick Forrest

Germany: 7; Brazil: 1

German coach Joachim Low is to be lauded for the impressive output achieved by his country’s team when it crushed Brazil at the World Cup Semi-Finals this past Tuesday.

The extent of the results were shocking; the execution massively impressive… so efficient and effective!

In my blog last week I wrote about the essential act of management: that of matching the capability of a direct report to the task at hand. A manager needs to create the plan, define the roles required to execute it, and then choose the team that has the capability to deliver it.

Low’s team put in a near flawless performance. It was almost, well, embarrassingly good. Now, can he do it again this coming Sunday when Germany faces off against Argentina? Let’s see: he needs to develop the plan, define the roles required for this game, and fill those roles with players capable of successfully delivering the plan – then sit back and measure the results.

Argentina’s team will have its hands full if its coach (its manager!) cannot match Low’s ability in planning, role defining and capability matching.

Nick Forrest

Like many of you, I am currently on vacation and enjoying the lead-up to the finale of the World Cup tournament. Yet, again like many of you, I find that my “business” brain does not shut off while vacationing; indeed, as I watch the football matches, I find myself becoming frustrated at what I see as clear examples of managerial ineffectiveness. Take, for example, the recent piteous performance of Portugal; a team that, on paper, looks exceptional yet cannot translate those credentials into actual results. The “star” of managing this disappointing performance is Portugal’s manager, Paulo Bento. His team gave a stunningly poor performance despite a roster comprising myriad experienced superstar players.

So, what happened?

My suggestion is that Bento appeared to ignore the fundamental management tools for assessing the ability of his players. In my estimation, there are three criteria he should consider to help him place the right players on his team:

  • Do they have the cognitive capability to understand the game strategy their manager wants to implement?
  • Do they have the skills and knowledge to play at the required level to implement the game strategy?
  • Do they value playing for the team, supporting their manager and team members and will they play their hearts out in support?

My view of Portugal is that most of the team members qualify as highly capable on points one and two above, but fail miserably on point three. Key players seemed more interested in their own agendas than that of their team. The incredible behaviour of the experienced Pepe resulted in him being sent off the field! The bickering amongst members, the petulant behaviours, and the lack of synchronized attack doomed this team.

Bento has a golden generation of younger players who would have given their all to take place on this team and would have funded it with energy and a renewed will to win. What was he thinking in keeping those players out of the game?  I can’t say for sure, but I can suggest it was a decision made due to poor management ability.

Mapping this football analysis onto the office, it behooves managers to regularly “take the temperature” of their staff and how they value the work. Do they understand the strategic playbook? Do they have the necessary skills to fill the position they are assigned? Are they playing on the organizational team? Do they want to win?

A team still in the tournament with a similar makeup is Belgium. They seem to suffer the same symptoms as Portugal – listless, unenthusiastic playing, playing with individual vs. team effort, strange bench choices – despite which they have scraped through to the last eight. Can their manager pull them together to victory? To do so, he will need to evaluate them on the points above. Currently, I think they’d rank low on number three (value the role). It will definitely be worth watching to see what happens this weekend and who the manager chooses as a team to do the job.

Nick Forrest