Category: Dare to manage

Reading @AndreaFelsted‘s piece yesterday in the Financial Times about Tesco one year in to Dave Lewis’ tenure as CEO, I was reminded of the piece I wrote on the importance of management in turning around the former UK retail heavyweight’s fortunes.

It is clear that Mr Lewis has failed to manage.  He destroyed the contract of trust by cutting thousands of head office jobs.

A CEO who cuts employees is an abject failure – his/her strategy did not work & employees pay the cost. Mr Lewis inherited this mess, so conveniently he can sidestep the strategy issue, but the fundamental problem remains: that he further strained the contract of trust while negotiating his compensation package.

Why would Tesco expect anything else from their employees but distrust, disconnection, cynicism and low morale?

Learn how to master the craft of CEO management at

When some of  your employees start referring to themselves as robots something is badly wrong. If the content of the New York Times article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”, is even partly accurate Jeff Bezos and his management team have their work cut out to re-correct for the long term. Given Amazon’s drive to introduce more robots in to its workplaces and its 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems – a startup that used robots to pick products at distribution centres – you have to wonder whether it is all part of Bezos’ grand plan. Bezos needs to quickly clarify and rebrand his companies human resource policies to ensure his staff that they will not just become cogs in his mechanized automated retail delivery processes as he ruthlessly drives for greater productivity.

I recently spoke with former Canadian Tire Acceptance CEO, Jos Wintermans about the mistake many CEOs make when looking to improve productivity

How an organization behaves is the sum of the structure, processes, policies and management practices employees find themselves in.  This starts with senior management. Amazon’s current culture is a fundamental failure of management.

In successful companies, employees are held accountable to behave in a constructive and contributive way within the communities they serve.  Employees who join these companies grow in confidence and self worth living a life that will benefit the communities they live in.  At Amazon this appears to have broken down.  Sure, there are many employees who will love this environment but overall the fanatical pursuit of productivity is coming at a cost that could derail the company in the long term.  Working there sounds dystopian.  The description in the article does not make it a friendly, kind or supportive place to work – unless you are a robot.  Bezos and his senior management team have created a detention camp with rules that pitch employees against each other and processes that enable them to undermine and deep six each other!  Does he truly understand the systemic impact of all his policies, and the behaviour it elicits from his employees in the workplace. I think not

The company’s “Anytime Feedback Tool”, for example, encourages employees to give positive feedback to peers but also enables what, according to the New York Times, “workers called a river of intrigue and scheming – making quiet pacts to bury the same person at once or praise another lavishly”. Its initial intent may have been positive – but it was also naïve, and sets up a system that erodes and undermines trust.  It is company-sponsored victimization.  Reading the New York Times article also suggests that meetings have become “gladatorial” – the sword of axe now being replaced by data wielded in an aggressive and relentless way to push your idea through to victory.

Alan Huggins, former CEO of Lowes Canada, and Vice President of International Operations at Lowes in the US explains that the CEO plays an important role in the creation of company culture

Effective management provides failsafes to ensure that this kind of behaviour doesn’t happen. The management systems, processes and practices at Amazon appear to create an environment for it to flourish.

While Amazon has been hugely successful on paper my worry would be it has built a culture, and a way of doing business, that is dangerously short-sighted when it comes to its employees.  With this implacable pursuit of productivity – who working at Amazon can feel they have any long term security? Most managers lack the skill to implement this strategy effectively and will continually find themselves in a Catch 22: letting employees go they think are rather good, and unable explain the reasons for their firing other than the “system made me do it”.

Mr Bezos is in danger of creating a meat-grinding machine full of highly capable employees who fail due to the system they find themselves in. Some of the policies described in the article and and the behaviours they have manifested would make the STASI proud. That is not the recipe for a successful company long-term – whether or not your employees are robots.

Mr Bezos needs to step back and do the following:

  • Understand that it is his work alone to build an environment where all his employees can do their best work.  He does not delegate the creation of this strategy to HR.  It is the most important work he has on his plate at this time given the huge number of employees he now has and success of his company depends on how effectively he leverages this asset
  • Understand that CEO management requires him to integrate, and align the  structure, processes and policies he needs to put in place in his workplace to create the positive behaviour he wants.
  • Identify and root out all the processes and policies that presently propagate distrustful and manipulative behaviour amongst employees
  • Build a management team around him who understand his revised people strategy and value its philosophy and importance of implementation
  • Be very thoughtful about productivity enhancements and their impact on the larger workforce
  • Never forget humans are not extensions of machines.  Amazon has an accountability to better the communities his employees work in

Jeff Bezos’ pursuit of ever increasing productivity and innovation balanced with high morale and employee growth is not a new challenge.  But if he is going to be really successful he needs to make it his own work and not delegate it to lieutenants armed with data and HR – as many of his peers do.

About the author

Nick Forrest has spent more than 30 years working with senior executives of large organizations helping them better manage large groups of people.  He is a keen scholar of military leaders and an avid collector of Penguin Classic paperback books.

One of the highlights of Management Today’s coverage of its #MTLive event recently was hearing from Andy Street, CEO of UK retailer John Lewis Partnership.  Street is, by the publication’s measure, Britain’s most admired business leader.

Reading his comments and, subsequently, a series of articles written about him it’s not hard to understand why he is most admired. But he is, first and foremost, a Manager not a Leader.

In one Management Today piece Street attributes his success to strength of the business model he inherited; a business model created by the founders son in 1929 and adhered to ever since. Street is the steward of this model.  He is accountable for creating and executing a plan that allows the company to prosper.  And, prosper it has.  While many UK retailers have struggled in difficult trading conditions and increased competition from low-price retailers John Lewis’ premium business has weathered the storm better than any other.

How has it done this? Andy Street says he thinks it is in large part down to the culture of the organization. “People trust organizations because of a sort of total peace around the organization. So we want to be perceived as an organization that’s a good employer and has a fair approach to pay, for example”, he told the publication.

John Lewis are renowned for their staff’s morale and engagement. This requires clarity – everybody must know what they are accountable for. This requires direct, truthful, conversations; sometimes difficult ones. This also requires transparency. But, most importantly, it requires management.  Most companies struggle to create a culture where employees are engaged and inspired.  The most common cause is not a lack of a leader – somebody pointing the way – but the lack of a Manager.

The Partnership in the John Lewis name means that all employees share in the profits. You might think that having partners might make direct truthful conversations about corporate and individual performance – and applying consequences – in a transparent way difficult. But, says Street in his #MTlive interview, it makes them easier.  Management and employees at John Lewis are able to have direct truthful conversation that are accepted and understood by all – and this produces significant competitive advantage in innovation, customer engagement and strategy execution.

Creating and maintaining this culture doesn’t happen by accident: it starts at the top – with the CEO and senior management team. Creating it is easy; maintaining it is incredibly difficult. It requires continual management.

I believe Andy Street should be recognized as Britain’s Best Manager – a far greater accolade in my book than the one already bestowed on him. He doesn’t just point the direction, he manages the organization to ensure it achieves its goals for the benefit of every single employee.  I call it CEO management.

Dear Dave,

I know, ‘Every Little Helps’, but that doesn’t include employees pension contribution and pay!

You have too rich a compensation package for the results you’ve achieved so far Dave. Nobody is worth £4m for six months work – especially the six months you’ve had.

Your employees will only thrive under quality management that is fair and respectful. If, as the papers speculate, you’re after their cash, while you and your board squabble over million-pound claw backs and lucrative pay packages the optics will look awful. Not to mention the impact on your employees’ morale.

DON’T DO IT, DAVE! Please.

Nick Forrest

CEO, Dare To Manage


A key first step to managing large groups is to be clear on your strategy and be able to quote your Vision and Mission statement from memory. When talking with a group of 25 CEOs last week about how to manage large groups of employees a considerable number of these CEO’s,  to my surprise, could not do this.
I did not expect managers at this level to fail in this exercise.  But am I being naive? How many senior executives have their Vision and Mission statements memorized cold? How many are able to refer to it mentally as a guiding reference for all they do on a day-to-day basis?

The problem is many senior leaders regard their Vision and Mission as window dressing – something they need to have but do not really value.  Take some time to read a few: many are excruciatingly obtuse.  Yet these are the two statements
that are supposed to give context and direction (what businesses we can and cannot be in) for everything done in a company to achieve the strategy.  The apparent failure of CEOs and senior managers to know their Vision and Mission off pat could explain the poor performance of many household brand companies.

I think I stumbled on a real opportunity to improve alignment and corporate performance.  Knowing and understanding the Vision and Mission is the accountability of every manager in the organization.

Have you committed your Vision and Mission to memory?  What about your senior executive team? What role does it play in helping you manage large groups of employees?

Share your Vision and Mission below and I’ll send you a condensed version of How Dare You Manage? 7 Principles Every CEO Needs for Managing Large Groups of Employees.

Last week I read about the sad findings in Gallop’s most recent “State of the
American Manager” Report.  It’s an interesting – if depressing – read.  It got me thinking about the core skills of
management talent.   These are:

* Motivator
* Assertiveness
* Accountability
* Relationships
* Decision Making

According to the report, the majority of managers fail every one.  On the face
of it they do not look that complicated, so let’s examine them and try and see
where most managers are going wrong.

1. Motivator:  They challenge themselves and their teams to continually improve
and deliver distinguished performance.

You’d think that this capability should be found in most management candidates.
It is not hard to see if someone is interested in accomplishment and
improvement.  Just look at their past history and how they have improved

2. Assertiveness: They overcome challenges, adversities and resistance.

Have you put someone in a role where they will be overwhelmed?  How big are they
for the role?  You need someone who can get the arms around their management
role.  If they feel overwhelmed they will find it hard to be assertive.

The choice to put them in a role is the sum of their manager’s discretion.
Often this discretion gets undermined by weak objective measurements that
enable shoddy thinking and poor choices.

3. Accountability:  They ultimately assume responsibility for their teams ‘
success and create the structure and processes to help their teams deliver on

If you hold a manager accountable for the outputs of their employees you will
get the above.  There can be no “Teflon Management” if a manager is held
accountable for their team’s output.  “There is nobody else to blame for poor
performance so I had better get on with building the best team I can and support
them with the required structure and processes”

4. Relationships:  They build a positive, engaging work environment where their
teams create strong relationships with one another and clients.

All of us know and can judge if someone can build relationships.  How dare you
put managers in charge of people when they don’t like people!!!!   It just a
fundamentally flawed decision that builds dark satanic mills – awful places to
work.  It is unconscionable act of lousy management

5.Decision-Making:  They solve the many complex issues and problems inherent to
the role of thinking ahead, planning contingencies, balancing competing interest
and taking an analytical approach.

They need a brain to do this!  Do not put a manager in a role who is not capable
of handling the complexity the work.  They will be overwhelmed, unable to sort
things out and delegate effectively to their employees.  These employees will
also work out quickly that their manager is “too stupid” for the role and cannot
help or team them much if anything.  It raises the odds of them disengaging from
their work pretty fast.

The truth is that none of this matters much unless the CEO and their Executive
really engage and care about structuring work of their company and staffing it
with right management capability and holding them accountable for effective
performance.  And, while the five dimensions of effective management might
appear common sense, Gallup says that in a whopping 82 percent of cases
organizations choose fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the
manager job.

This is an abdication of CEO Management.  It is a shame and creates a wasteland
of human talent as described by Gallop in their 2015 report. The sad fact is
that as ill equipped most managers in large organizations are, it starts with a
basic CEO skills gap.

Closing that gap MUST be the priority for the majority of large organizations.

If you’re a manager Gallup’s latest “State of the American Manager” is painful
reading. Our profession is full of incompetent, overwhelmed managers who do not
care for the role they have chosen. As a result, they inflict pain and
suffering on those they are supposed to be managing. Only 35% of managers
are engaged, 51% are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged.

In his introduction Gallup CEO Jim Clifton pulls no punches. “Most CEO’s I know
don’t care about their employees or take and interest in Human Resources”.  This
disinterest and disengagement costs the US economy $319 billion per year.

The report states that their research showed 1 in 2 – HALF of US employees left
their job to get away from their manager and improve their personal life at some
point in their career.  I can testify to that – it happened to me twice in my
early career. The report says that just 30% of workers are engaged in their
work and connected to their company.

I believe all employees have right when hired by a company to be given work that
grows their self-confidence and feeling of self worth. This is a common sense
and win-win for both the employee and the company. But, it requires managers
pay attention to their employees, manage them with respect, give them work that
interests them and enable them to learn and grow they will get higher levels of
engagement and quality of work.  It requires a framework for managers to acquire
the skills they need to manage large groups of people effectively.

The opportunity for improvement is massive. What CEO’s and their executives
think their management work is I do not know, but Gallup’s report suggests they
need to find out. And quickly!