The Economist magazine ended a survey of e-business with a review of the skills necessary to successfully manage an e-world business. Now before you discount what is to follow because you might argue that you are not involved in an e-business, have a look at the list. It is no different from skills that Tom Peters, Charles Handy and others have been punting for the past 20 years!

The Economist magazine ended a survey of e-business with a review of the skills necessary to successfully manage an e-world business. Now before you discount what is to follow because you might argue that you are not involved in an e-business, have a look at the list. It is no different from skills that Tom Peters, Charles Handy and others have been punting for the past 20 years!
The ten skills were listed as:
1. Speed. Everything takes place at a more rapid rate. Decisions need to be made on the hoof and so eliminate bureaucracy – it only impedes rapid-response decision making.
2. A “Few Good Men” (to borrow from the movie title). Of course for “men” read “people” but the point is that a business stills needs good people. An e-business will require fewer people but they need to be better. In the previous newsletter we wrote about future business being measured with a “relational yardstick”. In The Elephant and the Flea Charles Handy writes, “…technological innovations are only there to reinforce the human relations values of confidence, proximity and responsiveness, that are the very essence of our business” (p94) He goes on to make the point that in the future we may well end up with more employed in personal relationships rather than fewer. I know of a successful business that has made it policy to hire talent rather than skills with spectacular results. Skills, they argue, can always be acquired.
3. Openness and transparency. In the aftermath of what has been called the ‘failure of corporate America’ the measure to ensure transparency and disclosure will be more stringent than ever. Rightly so. The various interest groups, from shareholders to employees will demand access to information and participate in more meaningful ways in the decisions and management of the business than ever before. Recently I was visiting one of our clients, a wholesaler in Port Elizabeth. The store was bright, clean and there was a tangible energy in the place. As I stood chatting to the manager it was obvious that something was different about this particular store. After several questions digging into the reason why this was the case, the manager isolated the following reason: the unusual degree to which staff were involved in decision making. This he concluded was the primary factor in creating this obvious distinction between his store and the many others I have visited.
4. Working together / Collaboration / Team work.< So much said and written on this but it seems the more that is said the less it is understood and practiced. In the course of our work Barrie and I have frequently come across groups laying claim to the tag of “team”. However, what we discover as we work with them is that they are anything but a team. So often the corporate “team building activities” are chosen without due consideration and as a result terrify, alienate and erode confidence. Trust is an essential ingredient in any team. And whilst it takes time and hard graft to build, it can be broken in an instant. Handy likens trust to a sheet of glass – once broken it can never be the same again, no matter how hard you try to glue it together.
5. Discipline. A necessary ingredient for both individuals as well as corporates. Some years ago research was done on what it was that enabled leaders to finish well. ‘Finishing well’ was not defined but the survey was done amongst those perceived by their peers to have ended their careers on a high note. One of the factors to emerge from the research was that those who had finished well had maintained discipline in the ‘important areas of life’. Once again, what these ‘important areas’ were was not defined. They would have differed from person to person in much the same way that each company has to discover its own core and cannot merely ape another admired company in order to discover that core. Protocols and procedures are the keys to efficiency. Sound business discipline knows no substitute in the same way that if you wish to run a marathon you have to do the training.
6. Good communications – the need for people to know. The recent theatre siege in Moscow (even although it is outside of a corporate context) provides a tragic example of the importance of this point. The medical team that followed the elite troops into the theatre were uninformed concerning the gas used to nullify the Chechen forces inside the theatre. The medics were prepared for dealing with the aftermath of an explosion, not gas. As a result they were ill prepared and equipped to do what needed to be done. In an interview, one of the medics (speaking anonymously) said that had they been informed prior to the attack they could have prevented many of the 116 gas related deaths. A tragic case in point of the result of failing to share necessary information – before, and it seems, after the incident.
7. Information in context. So much of what falls under ‘communication’ is unnecessary. Information without context is spam, junk mail and a downright pain. The debate of whether or not people need to know everything has both vociferous protagonists and antagonists. Perhaps a more telling line of inquiry is, ‘who gets to decide what needs to be protected and why’?
8. Customer focus. Seeing the customer as an individual and treating him /her accordingly. Not merely as a number. Throw away the policy manual that adopts a “one size fits all” approach when dealing with customers. Want to get me going? Just say, “Sorry Sir, it is our policy…” Get the right people to deal with your customers and then equip and empower them to just that – deal with each customer. With ever increasing ways to ‘customize’ systems, it is important to find fresh ways to develop personalized customer relations or contact points. Checking into a hotel recently I turned on my TV to discover a personal greeting. A nice touch I thought, clever, impressive even. However, this personalized touch failed to translate to the reception desk (the real ‘people contact’ point) which didn’t take advantage of the information that their system made available. This leads to the next point…
9. Knowledge management. Share what you know, use it and reuse it. Be inquisitive. Charles Handy calls it, “walking in other worlds” – meaning that we need to listen, inquire and then go back and use the knowledge gained to change the way we see our world. – to evoke a ‘paradigm shift’ as some refer to it. I know of someone who, when it comes to his vacation, makes his way to the library and chooses 10 books: five within his area of specialization and five that are on completely foreign fields of study. Be hungry to learn and just as keen to share what it is you are learning. 3M’s renowned Failure’s Forum (where failures are shared in order to learn / solve problems) produced one of their most renowned products – the post-it note. It has been my experience that often the corporate culture is one that inhibits the sharing of knowledge. This could be due to a number of things including competition, fear of failure or an “every person for themselves” kind of attitude.
10. Leadership by example. In this context it means getting online. Knowing how to switch a computer on is not enough. Beware when you start to hear yourself say, “I’m too old to keep pace with this technology” or, “but I’m comfortable doing it the way I have always done it”. Take a course, get your kids to give you some lessons, read a book but get up to speed.
So there you have it – 10 lessons necessary for an e-business to survive and yet all 10 apply to every CEO or manager. Perhaps there is indeed, ‘nothing new under the sun’!

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