Professor Andrew Chambers is a Professor Emeritus and former Dean, Cass Business School. In this interview, he spoke on how leaders can develop skillsets to better govern their organisations and about the forthcoming programme organised by TEXEM on Strategic Leadership for results driven change management scheduled to come up between 24th and 25th May in Lagos. Excerpts:

You are a Professor Emeritus and former Dean at the Cass Business School; what business models can Nigerian entrepreneurs adopt to improve their businesses?

To some extent it depends on the nature of the innovative business idea. Behind every successful entrepreneur you will find audacity, dexterity in maximising ambiguity, long hours, and passionate dedication – what sociologists would call ‘deferred gratification’. The gratification is in the obsession to make a success of the venture-All these skill-sets are encompassed by strategic leadership and optimising performance which TEXEM’s forthcoming programme on Strategic Leadership for Results Driven Management at the British Deputy High Commissioner’s residence in Lagos on 24 & 25 May would cover-Please visit www.texem.co.uk for more information. One reason start-ups may fail is that the entrepreneur becomes distracted by other interests. At a practical level, you must watch your cash flow with the eyes of a hawk.
You are likely to need mentoring and financial support – maybe in the shape of a business angel or venture capital. Listen to what they say, but be cautious of accepting advice and support you are uneasy about.

How can our leaders come up with fresh ideas to move the nation’s economy forward?

There are multiple examples elsewhere in the world of novel business ideas that have succeeded recently or are set fair to succeed soon: look hard at them and learn from them. You don’t have to be completely original with your ‘fresh idea’. Bear in mind that good marketing persuades potential customers they need your product or service – even if, to start with, they don’t see the point. We can think of many good leaders today who have the charisma not only to motivate their staff, but also to persuade their potential customers. Attend training programmes organised by TEXEM where you would have the opportunity to challenge assumptions, learn from over nine hundred years of participants’ experience and gain insights into how organisations in other industries in Nigeria and beyond are generating fresh ideas and converting these to superlative performance.

What steps can be taken to inspire leaders within an organisation in a recession?

Leadership cascades down an organisation and expands laterally across it. If top leadership succeeds in inspiring across the organisation at all levels, productivity will be enhanced – so long as there is a strong sense of direction. If the organisation has its back to the wall because of the recession, top leadership will need to be incisive in implementing measures which are ‘quick wins’, painful thought they may be.

The question remains – how does the very top leadership get its inspiration, especially in difficult times? Many top leaders avail themselves of one-to-one mentoring off-site. Industry bodies need to provide succour for top leaders. Government rhetoric needs to be accompanied by practical action to encourage organisations to raise their game. Again, some of these themes would be covered by Clive Carpenter and me at TEXEM’s forthcoming programme on Strategic Leadership for Results Driven Change Management in Lagos.

How can leaders develop skillsets to better govern their organisations?

There are short-term and long-term issues here. At any one time a top leadership team needs complementary skill sets. If the chairman is good at negotiating with government but no good at being the public face of the organisation in front of the media, then the organisation is likely to need a CEO who is good at that. But it could be vice versa. So, in the sort-term you need to know the skill sets that are needed and make sure they are present within the team and that responsibilities are aligned to these personal strengths. Training and development requirements must be identified to ‘top-up’ on expertise and to develop expertise from scratch when individual leaders need new competencies.

Nobody is beyond the need for continuous professional development. I recall when I chaired the audit committee of a FTSE company how aghast the chair of the board and the CEO were when I asked to company to support me attending a training and development course. They should not have been aghast – training needs at all levels should be proactively identified and budgets available where necessary to give effect to these needs. On-the-job training is part of it.

The long-term issue is to develop staff with an eye on their future careers and the long-term needs of the organisation. Many executives have latent potential to exercise skills which their current roles give them little opportunity to display-Trainings such as those by TEXEM which has a repeat participation of about 60% would equip leaders with the requisite skill-sets that they require to successfully govern their organisations.
Too few organisations invest in developing their staff, at all levels.

What can a leader do to achieve superlative business growth in turbulent times?

Eliminate unnecessary costs so that you are as competitive as possible. Listen carefully to the market so that your products and services are aligned to the constrained market needs.
Consider where the new opportunities are, arising from the turbulent times. For instance, are there distressed companies who will be looking to outsource much of what they have previously done in-house? Consider whether your organisation should outsource more, and whether you could become an outsourced service provider.
Ask yourself whether there are new business opportunities your organisation could exploit which arise from the turbulent times.

How can boards inspire change at a time of low morale, finite resources and crises?

The right starting point is for the board to focus on ensuring that morale stays high. Transparent communication with staff and other stakeholders is part of this. Implementation of appropriate board policies is another part of it. Lead by example: it may the case that if there is no pain there is no gain. But the pain should be fairly applied and top management, together with the board, should be seen as sharing the pain. High morale will be so important but will not be kept if there are illogical and extravagant decisions emanating from the board and top management.

How could the board leadership ensure that strategy conceived at the board gets implemented?

The board is responsible for determining the policies of the organisation and its strategy. Then the board has the responsibility to oversee that management is implementing the board’s policies and the adopted strategy. And the board is responsible to ensure that the executive has the resources needed to implement the adopted strategy. The board needs to meet sufficiently frequently to do this. Reporting through to the board needs to tell the board, in a timely way, what the board needs to know in terms of whether management is implementing the board’s policies and the agreed strategy. This reporting must also be designed to notify the board of other significant things happening within the business which may amount to unacceptable risks.

Many boards will find they need advice from independent parties – such as external auditors, law firms and other consultants. Reporting to the board by the executive may on occasion not be sufficiently independent or reliable.
The responsibilities of the board are not the same as the responsibilities of the executive. As I have said, the board adopts strategy and oversees that the executive is implementing that strategy as intended.

Yes, how does a board make sure it knows its policies and strategy are being implemented by management, and that there are no banana skins around the corner (known or not to management) over which the organisation is likely to slip? A very good question which would be covered at the forthcoming training on Strategic Leadership for Results Driven Change Management on the 24th and 25th of May 2017 in Lagos. Please email exec@texem.co.uk for details of this programme.

How can a leader turn a negative situation to a positive result?

First, quality and timely information which analyses the reasons for the negative situation is a prerequisite for being able to identify the problem and take remedial action. Decisive action will then be needed – and good leaders need to be able to be decisive while carrying the organisation with their decisions. A good leader will select the right method by which courses of action will be determined – which involves deciding on the level of consultation and participation by colleagues and staff.
And consider carefully whether there are new opportunities inherent in the negative situation.

What is your opinion on organisational challenges in Nigeria?

These are linked to the wider Nigerian social and economic context. Many challenges for Nigerian organisations are to do with currency weakness, a skewed economy, governmental issues, high unemployment and challenges apparent in the social fabric – such as corruption and civil unrest. All countries have their particular challenges and Nigeria’s potential is huge. A distinct feature of TEXEM’s programmes is that the trainings incorporates the contextual realities that organisations face in developing country contexts.

9. How do you think these challenges can be resolved?
To start with, look to see what opportunities accompany these organisational challenges. Every ‘negative’ may have a potential ‘positive’ for organisations. For instance, high unemployment provides a reservoir of labour, subject to employability and measures within organisations to train new staff.
Secondly, organisational leaders must engage with wider society to engineer social and economic change for Nigeria. This is an important part of Nigerian corporate social responsibility.

What are some of the things an executive would pick up at the forthcoming executive development programmes?

You will benefit from networking with other impressive leaders and future leaders – both during the executive development programme and afterwards when you keep in touch with those you meet-This assures of bumper return on investment. You will have the opportunity to challenge and debate with the faculties who have a wealth of leadership experience-For example I have delivered executive development programmes in sixty countries globally, I have practical management as we all as board level experience and Clive Carpenter has advised many boards across Africa and in Europe.

The executive development programme focusses on leadership challenges in difficult times, but much of its content will be just as relevant when the recession is over. Thus, executive would have the opportunity to come up with fresh strategic insights, enhanced motivation and actionable frameworks that they would require to develop sustainable competitive advantage, grow and be successful in the short, medium and long term.

How could organisations strike the right balance between risk management and innovation in a recession?

‘Cars have brakes so that they can go faster’. There are fewer risks to be managed in an organisation that isn’t innovating – other than the major risk inherent in the lack of innovation. Innovation requires an organisation to understand and mitigate the risks associated with being innovative. But risk management is not just a matter of identifying and managing the threats to the organisation; risk management is also about identifying future possible opportunities and putting in place now what will be needed for the organisation to be able to exploit those opportunities should they occur (and should the organisation decide then to exploit those opportunities).

How can leaders optimise their decision making process?

Leaders should always strive to make optimal decisions, but more usually must settle for ‘satisfactory’ not ‘optimal’ decisions. Long ago, the Nobel prize winner, Herbert Simon, called this ‘satisficing’. Today we can get closer to optimising our decision making – for instance by modelling different scenarios making use of I.T. – in ways which were previously impractical because they were too time-consuming.

How could organisations achieve Strategic Leadership for Result driven change management?

They should attend the forthcoming executive development programme organised by TEXEM on this topic. Also, especially in large organisations, a good working relationship between the board and the top executive team is important. They should work as a team to develop future strategy. They should set aside quality time, most probably off-site, off-site to brainstorm about strategy, perhaps making use of outside experts.
It is often said that what can’t be measured doesn’t get managed. Most, perhaps all, strategies involve making changes and achieving changed outcomes. We need clear predictions of the expected results of future changes, these should be measurable, and the board should monitor these results.

What are some of the highlights of your forthcoming presentation at TEXEM’s Strategic Leadership for Results Driven Change Management?

We look hard at what makes a good leader and how organisations need to be led. We consider how different organisations need different leadership approaches. A thread woven through the executive education programme is leading organisational change for optimal results. Those who attend the executive development programme will also get a good appreciation of how successful organisations work and thrives in austerity and prosperity, which is a prerequisite for understanding how they need to be led. Specifically, the following themes would be covered: Enabling personal and organisational change, Optimising Change and decision making, Organising for innovation, Leading the politics of change, Engaging internal and external stakeholders and Amalgamation as well as, Developing an action plan for change.

How can business owners effectively handle competition since more entrepreneurs are coming on board on a daily basis?

Most new organisations will fail. Failure may be due to the business idea being unviable, to poor management and bad early decisions, to poor customer relations and marketing, to too rapid expansion, to inadequate capital; and poor cash flow, to a lack of commitment – and so on. The best way to handle the competition that comes from so many entrepreneurial start-ups is to make sure that none of these causes of failure can be put at your door. Then, much of the competition will wither away in time.

BIODATA

Professor Andrew Chambers is a Professor Emeritus and former Dean, Cass Business School, UK. Chambers has always had a foot firmly in the business school world and the business world – both in leadership capacities. At Cass he taught a highly acclaimed double module on organisational behaviour (including leadership) to 200 executives and he has delivered executive development programmes in over sixty countries. In the business world he has been a board leader 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.