Preparing for peak demand

By Helen Wright19 September 2014

Kevin Appleton, IRN columnist and former CEO of Lavendon Group.

Kevin Appleton, IRN columnist and former CEO of Lavendon Group.

I hope you’ve all had great summers and are ready for the period of the year which normally brings peak demand for our industry. When it comes to building a productive and efficient business, there are a variety of styles that produce results. Here are the final three of my seven key beliefs.

5. Having a highly responsible job doesn’t make you a highly important person

When successful Roman generals had one of their triumphal parades into the heart of ancient Rome, being lauded by thousands upon thousands of citizens, they generally had one other important voice in their ear. It was the tradition for the triumphant general to be accompanied on his chariot by a trusted servant who would continuously whisper “memento mori” (“remember, you are mortal”). This was seen as a wise precaution against the natural human instinct to equate their success and position with some level of personal genius and to act accordingly.

The truth is that all leaders are where they are through a combination of factors – genes, education, upbringing, personality – many or most of which are pure accident, together with some personal choices around priorities in life. There will be many people in our companies that work just as hard as the boss does, or even harder, but their particular “accidents” mean that they will never be near the top of a business.

Most of us would find rudeness, arrogance, egocentrism, jealousy or vindictiveness highly unpleasant characteristics in our personal lives, but they are more than occasionally evident in the behaviour of people who have been corrupted by positions of power. We can so easily confuse our position with our person, but our role as leaders is to serve the organisation and its stakeholders through our stewardship. We are not important, just responsible.

6. Not spending money is not the same as making savings

All businesses need to keep a very careful eye on how and where they incur costs, with the goal that they are as low as they can be whilst supporting the current and future activities of the company. Very occasionally, situations can become so dire that the future of the company can be potentially measured in weeks, and then urgent and sometimes brutal action is required on all areas of expenditure. But we shouldn’t get stuck there.

I have seen so many occasions when businesses develop a culture of not spending on anything which is not essential to today’s business, even convincing themselves that this is a strength of their culture. Making real savings is about changing the way we work so that it can be more efficient – through better organisation, tools or processes – and making those kinds of changes can cost money in the short term. Investing appropriately in getting structurally better and more cost-efficient is the path to business longevity, whereas simply not spending on anything is the path to business death.

7. It can always be better

One of my least favourite expressions, applied to business, is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In truth everything can always be at least a bit better. The best chance of becoming a world beating athlete is to work even harder once you become national champion. It is not to sit on the sofa eating pizza and congratulate yourself that you haven’t yet had a serious medical condition.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can be the organisational equivalent of “if I ain’t dead yet, don’t exercise”! Constantly challenge yourself to be better. If that means breaking something that’s ok to try and make something brilliant then do it.

Good luck with the next few months, and I wish you the best of success with whatever your particular leadership challenges might be.

The author: Kevin is former CEO of Lavendon Group plc and former Divisional Chairman of Travis Perkins plc. He is currently Managing Director of Yusen Logistics UK Ltd, non-executive Chairman of Horizon Platforms Ltd , non-executive director at Ramirent Oyj and non-executive director of the Freight Transport Association. To comment on these articles please email: IRNfeedback@khl.com

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