Prof. Andrew Chambers has always had a foot firmly in the business school world and the business world – both in leadership capacities. He was Dean (CEO) of the leading Cass Business School, London. At Cass he taught a highly acclaimed double module on organisational behaviour (including leadership) to 200 executives. In the business world he has been a board member of a FTSE250 financial institution, and a number of charities and private companies. He also chaired the board of a fast-growing software company and had served under good and bad chairs of boards, observing what has made them successful or not. In this interview, he speaks on how leaders can develop skillsets to better govern their organisations . Excerpts.
Tell us about TEXEM
These Executive Minds (TEXEM) pride themselves on their ability to customise programmes for their clients and TEXEM have a deep understanding of Africa. Also, TEXEM and its world class faculty partners have a very good grasp of contextual realities of operating in developing countries. Those developing countries which may be ahead of Africa (in some cases) have similar features vis-à-vis fragile institutions, limited infrastructure and the huge size of government. TEXEM’s forthcoming programme on Strategic Leadership for Results Driven Change Management would be delivered by me and Clive Carpenter, Vice Chair Business Council for Africa at the British Deputy High Commissioner’s residence on the 24th and 25th of May. (For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://texem.co.uk/
How could executives develop fresh ideas?
Take time out to think, ask the right questions, meet with peers and stakeholders-customers, regulators and employees at all levels including those at the shop floor. Attend a TEXEM training. Empower people to share ideas, develop an organisational ecosystem that generates ideas by creating the culture, structure and process that nurtures ideas. This would help create a system that pressure tests ideas so that great ideas and innovation can flow.
If you were starting this business afresh, what would be different? Listen to what others say.
What steps can be taken to inspire leaders within an organisation in a recession?
Whether markets are going up or down, there are always short and long term opportunities. Emphasise to your leaders that they should view the world this way.
How can leaders develop skillsets to better govern their organisations?
Practice makes perfect. But first know yourself, be self-aware and know the skills you need.Then work on building your skills-deficit. Don’t stay within your comfort zone. Encourage others to be frank about your leadership.
What can a leader do to achieve superlative business growth in turbulent times?
Turbulence means opportunity. First, brainstorm to determine where the opportunity lies for superlative growth. Boldly and quickly cut back on investment (and save costs) where opportunity for growth is low or non-existent; but try to retain market share and market presence until the upturn comes. Look after your cash flow.
How could boards inspire change at a time of low morale, finite resources and crises?
Lots of ways. Comes down to leadership, including making painful decisions. Early and timely wins will inspire confidence and lift morale. The quality of information available to the board and to top management is important. Always communicate transparently with those impacted. Be fair.
How could the board leadership ensure that strategy conceived at the board gets implemented?
It is a key question how boards know that their policies are being implemented as intended by management. First, the board must be clear to the CEO what is expected. Secondly the board must give the CEO the resources and encouragement he/she needs. The board must meet sufficiently frequently and must regularly receive the information it needs. The board should look for assurances from other parties apart from the CEO and top executives – such as consultants, internal audit, risk management, external audit and so on. Directors should never settle for opaque or non-existent explanations, and must come down hard when the executive springs surprises upon the board. Board members, including non-executive directors, should visit sites and customers, and be seen around at HQ – not just attend board meetings. And so on.
How can a leader turn a negative situation to a positive result?
If you have got this far, it means you know what the negatives are, and what a positive result would look like. So, you are half way there! Get your team focussing on eliminating the negatives and leveraging off what will lead to positive results. Hold them to account. No room for backsliding! Praise success to reinforce it.
What is your opinion on organizational challenges in Nigeria?
It seems to me that Nigerian organisations have challenges which are rooted in broader economic and societal challenges – such as a weak currency, an unbalanced economy, weak government, high unemployment, corruption, the vestiges of tribalism, civil strife.
These challenges are not unique to Nigeria of course. Everyone knows that Nigeria’s potential is immense.
How do you think these challenges can be resolved?
A big question, but the answer is to address each of the challenges in a determined way. Meanwhile, Nigerian organisations need to navigate their way through the maze of challenges. Good corporate social responsibility and enlightened corporate self-interest suggest a leadership role for Nigerian corporations to mitigate Nigeria’s economic and societal challenges.
Why does an executive need to attend TEXEM’s programme?
Learn from leading international experts. Network with today’s and tomorrow’s Nigerian leaders. Find out what keeps others awake at night and how to sleep more soundly. Recharge your batteries.
How could organsations strike the balance between risk management and innovation in a recession?
Organisations need this balance at all times. Cars have brakes so that they can go faster. If you have truly identified your innovation risks, assessed them and put in place appropriate mitigation measures, you will be able to innovate safely within your risk appetite. You have no choice. You need to innovate always – especially in a recession. Good risk management is not just about managing threats (“downside risk”), it is also about anticipating future opportunities that may possibly arise and positioning the organisation to exploit them should they occur (“upside risk”), and that is all to do with innovation.
How could leaders optimise their decision-making process?
The Nobel prize winner, Herbert Simon coined the word ‘satisficing’ – that leaders tend to settle for ‘satisfactory’ not ‘optimal’ decisions. It is all about ‘limited cognitive capacity’ – we have tiny minds which can’t process the complexity of the information available in an efficient (optimal) way. Better use of IT can help. Different situations demand different decision making processes as Vroom and Yetton and many others have shown. This is too big a subject to dispose of in a few words.
How could organisations achieve Strategic Leadership for Result driven change management?
Attend the forthcoming programme with TEXEM scheduled to come up on the 24th and 25th of Lagos! Laughs. We are talking here about successful management of meaningful change. Again, a huge subject! In a few words, it is important to design very carefully a strategy for the future which is deliverable, and everyone needs to know what it is so that all pull in the right direction. Many boards have ‘away weekends’ to thrash out strategy. You need to assign responsibilities clearly and hold staff accountable. Targets should be set and results should be measurable and measured, as what is measured gets managed.
That means that the leader(s) needs to monitor and oversee performance. In turn that needs timely and reliable information communicated clearly to the right people. There is much, much more to it than that, but that is a start.