Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Problem with "Business as Usual"

There is a strange calm in UMNO's top leadership in the aftermath of Permatang Pauh. Some call this downplaying. In contrast, fringe UMNO leaders like the redoubtable Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah are calling time out on this business as usual attitude. In fact, Ku Li is reported as having gone further to call upon BN component parties to stay the course with the fraying coalition.

Component parties like Gerakan continue to make tepid mutterances (My droll portmanteau word that combines mutter with utterance) about the need for BN to reform while Gerakan conducts internal reforms. For the life of me, I can never understand political parties that prefer closed door approaches to communal discourse and reform. Unless I am delusional, I was always under the impression that the nature of politics is communication. Politics is the art of communication, isn't it?

As for the MCA, the race for the presidency is heating up. Declared presidential aspirant Ong Tee Keat is in the unusual position of being the anointed one, having been purportedly endorsed by outgoing President Ong Ka Ting. This has placed erstwhile MCA vice president and, yet to be declared presidential aspirant, Dr Chua Soi Lek in the role of the party's conscience. Read his latest blog entry.

Talking Strategy

I think Ku Li's voice deserve to be heard. In the context of BN, Ku Li seems to be one of the few UMNO leaders who are seeing several moves ahead of the obvious one. Certainly the sharks are circling UMNO's apex leaders. Knives are being sharpened. But it takes true wisdom and genuine sincerity to rise above the fray and help UMNO chart its course for the next few decades.

To me Ku Li stands on a different plane from the rest of the current crop of UMNO leaders for his ability to size up the problem at hand with a big picture in mind, beyond the parochialism that characterises much of UMNO politics.

For UMNO, MCA and Gerakan, even MIC, there is a serious need for regeneration. All the talk of reform or change in UMNO becomes nullified in a no-contest directive. All the talk of reform in the MCA comes to naught if aspirants refuse to recognise the reasons for their rejection by the voters on March 8, 2008. Likewise with Gerakan and MIC. Maybe there are lessons in business on the dangers of idiosyncratic routines embedded from 51 years of dominance that are relevant to BN politicians.

Smart business leaders know one of their main jobs is to help their business, where appropriate, break out of routines. When people get into a routine, their brains often shift into neutral: They become less likely to spot changes in the environment and less likely to question what they are doing and how they are doing it. Embedded in routines are assumptions about the world and how it works, assumptions we often mistake for reality. And when the world changes faster than our assumptions about it, danger lies ahead.

One way to eliminate dangerous routines in a business is to start talking about strategy regularly, meaning more than just once a year. Good companies know how to tap key people at all levels to adapt strategy and to get together for a formal discussion of strategy at least once a quarter. It doesn't take more than a few hours in a well-designed process to root out routines that no longer make sense. It sometimes start by asking groups of key people the following questions:

In the past 90 days, what were our three most important strategic accomplishments? The group must always be pushed not to settle for answers like "we met our revenue budget." Instead, teach them that a strategic accomplishment is one which changes the field of play in a company's favor.

In the past 90 days, what were the three most important ways we fell short of our potential? This allows the company to tap into people's intuition about important things the company ought to be emphasizing, but isn't.

In the past 90 days, what are the three most important things we have learned about our strategy? This is the toughest one—asking people to learn and apply what they've learned to actually adapt the strategy and tactics of the company.

I believe there will be salutary effects if the BN politicians take on board this level of awareness and strategy as they continue to talk about reform. Don't forget though, you need to LISTEN.

No comments: