Clive Carpenter is Vice Chairman, Business Council for Africa, UK. An international banker and company director with track record in management at board level, Carpenter and Prof. Emeritus Andrew Chambers, a former Dean of Cass Business School, are due to deliver These Minds Executives (TEXEM) lecture entitled, ‘Strategic Leadership for Results-driven Change Management In a Recession’, at the British Deputy High Commissioner’s residence on May 24 and 25. In this interview, he speaks on the essence of the lecture.
WHAT can a leader do to achieve business growth in turbulent times?
Even in the worst economic climate, some businesses will thrive. Each business must endeavour to carve a niche for itself which gives it some advantage over its competitors and meets the needs of its customers and other stakeholders. Change must be constant to keep one step ahead of the market. Today’s success story may be tomorrow’s disaster if change is not ongoing. A leader must drive the change programme taking into account the views of all stakeholders and ensuring that it is a collaborative effort which has ‘buy in’ at all levels and not simply dictated. Differentiation from competitors is very important – it might come from products, prices, quality of people, etc. but there must be one or more things which differentiate you from the rest.
How can an organisation enable personal and organizational change in prosperity and in recession?
All stakeholders need to be shown that continuous change is not a choice but a necessity. There must be frequent dialogue – employer / employee – and training at all levels. Each employee should have a clear training plan revised annually via proper assessment and containing targets for achievement. The strategy for moving forward should capture ideas from all parties and it must be clear to all that they will benefit in some way from the change being implemented.
It does not matter if times are good or bad, change must still be ongoing. It is a matter of evolving and developing to meet the demands of the market.
What strategic skills do leaders need to deploy in an organization to avoid breakdown?
Leaders must be accessible (open door policy), good communicators, ready to listen, not be dictatorial, praise and reward when it is deserved and equally impose discipline when there has been wrong doing. They must show probity and transparency in all their dealings and generally endeavour to be a good example of all that the business they are leading stands for. A leader must understand that success comes from teamwork and not from personal promotion. It is by raising those around you that you, yourself, can rise.
What are the causes of organisation failure in Nigeria?
Organisational failure has common threads wherever a business may be based. It may come from poor leadership, inadequate cost control, incompatibility with the requirements of the market it operates in, poor governance, etc. There can be many different causes of failure. Corruption in Nigeria (and other countries of course) has been a cause of many failures and of inability for businesses to thrive. Equally, nepotism has lead to people holding jobs that they do not have the necessary attributes to perform successfully in. Putting ‘square pegs in round holes’ will always have negative outcomes.
Some businesses have simply followed the ‘herd instinct’, copying other businesses that have been successful. But there must always be differentiation for sustained success.
What do you think are the strategic issues that Nigerian organisations should be focusing on today and how could senior executives address it?
Nigeria as a country offers so many opportunities providing the challenges are recognised and addressed appropriately. Amongst the key strategic issues are having sufficient capital within a business to support its ongoing business plan. In Nigeria, some instances have been observed of business promoters being reluctant to dilute their shareholding by allowing other investors to bring in capital. Equally, some promoters will draw too much out of the business when it is not generating sufficient profit and is not well established. This can give rise to capital inadequacy. Of equal importance is having the right number and calibre of staff with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform. Ongoing training and assessment of all employees, including the Directors, is essential. In today’s world ‘continuous professional development’ is not a choice but a necessity.
How would you compare the changes experienced by organisations in Nigeria to those in the UK?
Change is a necessary constant that applies to all organisations worldwide. It is a matter of evolving within your environment or ceasing to be relevant. Nigeria does perhaps present some particular challenges in respect of its sheer size and complexity. The poor infrastructure adds significant costs to running a business (in-house generation of power for example) and this can greatly impact the bottom line.
Can you share with us some lessons that you have learnt in leading organisations in Africa? How does your experience of leading in Nigeria compare to that of those of other countries?
Leading an organisation has commonality no matter what country the business is based in. It is a matter of having a clear strategy that the employees understand and support and that meets the needs of the customers and other stakeholders. In Africa, it is perhaps the poor infrastructure that presents special challenges to leadership and, in some instances, a dearth of staff with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience.
From your over forty years’ experience of leading organisations, what are some lessons from change management initiatives that have succeeded and failed?
Change should never be forced on employees. They must be shown that the change is necessary and of benefit to them and to the company they work for. The must ‘buy in’ to the change and be shown that it is the best way forward. This will require detailed dialogue and all employees must be allowed to voice their opinion. It should be a collaborative effort that is motivational and rewarding.
Inevitably, some people will find it impossible to change or will simply disagree with the proposed strategy. In such cases, it may be best to negotiate their exit rather than risk them jeopardizing the overall change programme, upsetting other employees and being unhappy and unproductive themselves.
Human beings are naturally resistant to change.
How could leaders influence and shape the dialogue across their organisation and achieve buy-in from diverse stakeholders?
Change should never be dictated. It should emanate from detailed discussion amongst a group of stakeholders – shareholders, Directors, senior management, employees, customers, etc. Everyone should be allowed to contribute to the proposed strategy and, overall, it must be shown to be of benefit to everyone. For some, change may mean early retirement, redundancy or a change of role within the organisation.
There may be significant initial cost to implementing change but leading to increased revenues / reduced costs further down the path of change.
Why should executives attend your programme holding later this month?
Let me quote from the statement at some previous delegates of TEXEM and you can be the judge.
Dayo Babatunde, Senior Partner, Ernst and Young, said and I quote: “ I regard the These Executive Minds Executive Education programme as the best I have attended in recent times. Not one of them, but the very best as it was humanly perfect”. Peter Atolo Irene, CEO, International Energy Insurance Company, said: “The content of the program has been rich and educative, refreshing, enlightening and thought provoking. I enjoyed this program and I am looking forward to another program”.
Andy Uwejeyan, Managing Director A&J Construction Company Ltd., said: “I found this program very, very rewarding. In the past I always had a way of thinking that the matter of sustainability related only to policy matters but during this program it has been broken down into the company level and for me there are a number of take-aways that I hope to begin implementing once I get back home”.
Frank Algbogun, CEO and Publisher, Businessday, said: “My experience in this program has been quite enormous…The organisers, we saw that they prepared for us and they were quite good, quite sociable, and quite academic and we had discussion platforms that were divided into groups. On a general note, TEXEM is laying a foundation that will grow like an iroko tree. On this note I want to thank the CEO of TEXEM, AlimAbubakre, and his colleagues for making it possible for us to attend”.