Perhaps the most enduring lesson that I have learnt in the last 10 years, has very little to do with technical ‘mumbo jumbo’ relating to business turnaround, marketing, Six Sigma, or even Finance, my core discipline. At least, not on the face of it.
The single most important lesson is summed up in the phrase “Right to Left Thinking.”
Right to Left thinking is the discipline of eliminating barriers and doing what needs to be done to deliver desired, superior results, without compromising bedrock principles like business ethics. This simple mindset captures two of the six critical elements of “Good to Great” – confronting reality and disciplined thought and execution (Tom Collins, Good to Great”).
Fig. 1 below shows the normal constraining approach – “Current Plus/Minus.” The end-state is weighted by constraints. So a sales growth plan for example is “grow as fast as the economy” or “achieve growth to cover inflation.” In terms of costs, the discussion is “cost must not grow above the pace of sales growth” or “costs must not grow about the rate of inflation.”
This thinking has been the bane of real business success for a very long time. Some leaders do not challenge this thinking since it means that they are “setting themselves up” fail. In this situation, failure is committing to delivering “above average” results. The real impact though is on business results; sub-optimal and average.
Now contrast this approach with the “Right to Left” process depicted in Fig. 2 below. The critical difference is the focus on where you “want to be”, or, for the business in trouble, where you “need to be.” It is not “what can be achieved based on the realities” but “what must be achieved despite the realities.”
Emphasis is placed on Creating Viable Options from current reality or on creating a new reality (under-served customer, unexploited niche etc) and achieve the desired goals to survive or out-perform the market. It’s like working magic!
Results will be optimal – an exponential rather than an incremental improvement! The worse case is that the actual result will be above average, plus of course the organizational renewal that comes from thinking out of the box.
Right to left thinking will generate creative tension and it assumes that the organization has the resources to transform thinking and facilitate strategic disruption. That has implications for both organizational climate, culture and the leadership and business acumen of its executive leadership.
Will this work for your organization? In the words of noted philosopher Elbert Hubbard: “The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.” Or as we say in Jamaica “nothing tried, nothing failed!” which is our takeaway from Samuel Beckett’s: “… Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Vincent A. Gordon is the principal partner at OrgStrength®, and 20 years of significant leadership experience in major multinationals, including including General Manager of 3M Jamaica, and Regional Business Leader, 3M Caribbean Region. OrgStrength® is a leading management consultancy specializing in business turnaround and organizational renewal, and operates in Jamaica and the Caribbean area.