New Zealand is a small country of some 4.4 million, nestled in the south-western Pacific. On the world stage, we cast a reasonably small shadow most of the time. However, from time-to-time, our contributions belie our scale—like when women gained suffrage (first in the world), Rutherford split the atom, Hillary scaled Everest, and Jackson made the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Today, a group of New Zealanders joined a group of Flemish people at Messines Ridge Cemetery, to rebury the remains of a soldier that fell in World War 1, and remember New Zealand's contribution to defending the Western Front. We don't know who the soldier was, but do know that he was fighting for freedom. Commander of the Defence Force, Lt. Gen Rhys Jones, Ambassador Paula Wilson and many other New Zealand and Flemish dignitaries were present. Also, two young New Zealand AFS exchange students currently in Belgium, including our daughter Megan, laid a wreath and read a poem. The ceremony was reported in the Dominion Post and the NZ Herald.
The weather was cold, but the moment moving. It's at times like these, when we remember the contributions of our forebears, that I'm proud to be a Kiwi.
Every time a major company fails, smaller suppliers and associated companies are at risk of the domino effect—of becoming a statistic themselves. It's through not fault of their own, save choosing to do business in good faith with the failed company. This was highlighted in fairly stark terms in the last week, when companies either sub-contracted to, or associated with, New Zealand's third largest construction company, Mainzeal, started suffering.
The domino effect has major implications on economic performance and the wellbeing of communities. When major companies succeed and grow strongly, many smaller and associated companies also gain considerable benefit. Sadly, the domino effect also applies when major companies struggle or, worse still, fail.
While suppliers are generally very happy to benefit from upswings, downsides are something to be avoided. But can the downside of the domino effect be avoided? Thankfully, suppliers do have options. Here's two for starters:
What other "defence" mechanisms can put in place to avoid the domino effect?
I added a new string to my bow (so to speak) today—by becoming a Tutor at Massey University. So, with tutoring in the mix, I now have six strings to manage and keep in tune (Doctoral candidate, advisor, director, husband/father, cyclist, tutor). The task I've taken on is to teach the 115.108 Organisations and Management paper on the Wellington campus. It's a core paper in the BBS programme, and should be a lot of fun.
Preparing for weekly lecture and tutorial sessions will be a new experience for me, one that promises to be both demanding and fulfilling. I'll need to organise my time in a more structured manner than I've been used to—to ensure I meet the weekly cycle and provide space for students to visit to ask questions. On the upside, the idea of contributing to the learning and development of the next generation of business men and women is quite neat.
One initial observation: the systems and processes Massey has in place for new staff—even part-timers on fixed term contracts like me—are amazing. When I visited the campus today, I discovered access to key on-line resources had already been configured, an office had been assigned, access keys and cards were waiting for collection, and staff were bending over backwards to be helpful. If today is any guide, I'm in for a fulfilling semester ahead. Hopefully, the students agree!
I've just arrived home after a demanding but highly enjoyable trip to attend the ICMLG Conference in Bangkok. On the long flight back to New Zealand I found myself reflecting on the conference overall. Here's a selection of what I wrote down in my notebook:
Gender diversity: a new competitive advantage?
Manasi Shukla (Bangkok University) and Aurilla Aurelie Arntzen (Buskerud University, Norway) presented a conceptual paper which explored gender diversity in management and systems design as an important element for competitive advantage.
They outlined the challenges many women face, whereby many systems and products are designed by men, without any significant consideration for female cognitive or physical elements. They suggested that a woman's response to "design shortfalls" is to dismiss or avoid using a particular product.
Shukla and Arntzen tentatively proposed a leadership practices inventory, to assist organisations design for, and accommodate, the needs of women. They asserted that organisations that take such steps have the opportunity to secure a competitive advantage in the marketplace. This is an interesting assertion—one that merits further research via the analysis of empirical data to determine if/how the practices they suggest are indeed significant. I look forward to reading more about this in the future.
Are solutions the solution to adding customer value?
Philip Dover (Babson College, Mass) started his talk by sharing data that clearly shows that businesses perceive that "solutions" are crucial to business success. But what is a solution? There are as many definitions as claimants. Dover offered a definition developed by ITSMA, and then described a solutions hierarchy which ranges from general capability through to customer-specific solutions (which is where considerable added value occurs). He went on to acknowledge that it is very difficult for a company to make the transformation from a product-oriented company to a solutions-oriented company.
Dover and ITMSA have identified several key elements that must be addressed when companies wish to become solutions-oriented:
Given the commercial upside of embracing a solutions-oriented approach, should all businesses strive to adopt such an orientation? Dover's is "no". He suggested three elements must be present as pre-requisites before attempting to adopt a solutions orientation—being a large (high $$) customer and a complex requirement and relatively new technology.
Johan Segergren, Google: Fostering creativity and innovation internally
Technology companies are compelled to innovate. Typically, time is the only hurdle before a competitor emerges and surpasses the incumbent. Segergren spoke about Google’s response to this reality, as it strives to foster innovation and maintain its market-leading position. Responses include:
Reflecting on these responses, the common linking threads are culture and passion. This is refreshing. While Google is well beyond the tipping point, the responses give hope for the rest of us. They mean any company or any group can innovate and sustain innovation—if it wants to.
The sun is about the rise over Bangkok, Thailand, which means Day 2 of the ICMLG conference is upon us.
Day 1 proved to be very interesting. I spent most of the day in the governance stream, picking up as much knowledge as I could, as background for my doctoral research. Helpfully, the conference proceedings were distributed at the welcome function, so it was possible to pre-read some papers and make more informed decisions about which speakers to listen to. During the day there were several very good governance papers presented, and lots of stimulating discussion between sessions.
My paper seemed to be well received, with several very good questions after I spoke and some interesting conversations over lunch and coffee later in the day. It seems the relationship between governance and performance is highly topical, which is a nice confidence boost for my doctoral research.
The themes for Day 2 centre move on from governance, IT management and public sector topics, to gender, cultural and ethical issues, value creation and wider leadership matters. I'm looking forward to hearing Philip Dover (Babson College, Mass) explore Are Solutions the Solution to Adding Customer Value? I hear the phrase "our solution" often, so it will be good to get a research perspective to ground future conversations and discussions.
BI-based organisations: new possibilities
Celina Olszak (University of Economics, Katowice, Poland) spoke about the use of business intelligence (BI) in organisations. Using Gartner's maturity model, she analysed the responses from detailed interviews conducted with executives of 20 family-owned firms (all of whom were making use of BI tools), to assess the impact of business intelligence tools on business success. Interestingly, Olszak found that the mature use of BI-tools seems to be associated with increased business success. However, her research was limited to a specific segment of the business population. Further work is required to determine whether the reported use–success correlations can be generalised to wider populations, particularly larger organisations where the pervasive adoption of tools and processes to institutionalise knowledge and realise tangible value is perhaps more difficult to achieve.
Management attitudes toward currency hedging in a dynamic environment
Worasinchai (Bangkok University, Thailand) investigated the relationship between management attitudes and hedging risks in foreign exchange transactions. She analysed data gathered from semi-structured interviews, and presented an interesting theoretical model created to inform best practice to assist firms, trading partners and central government trading with Thai firms.
Worasinchai concluded—for large Thai firms and firms trading with Thai firms at least—that management attitude has an important impact on the strategic choices that a firm makes when considering currency hedging. She found that more conservative attitudes seem to be associated with a longer-term planning horizon. When asked about risk and subsequent performance, Worasinchai acknowledged this work is yet to be undertaken. If progress can be made in this area, and relationships and correlations between hedging, risk and subsequent company performance identified, then the prospect for a more stable global trading environment may well await.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.