Category Archives: Operational Excellence

Don’t Ignore the Brutal Facts!

Never ignore the brutal facts surrounding your organisation

How do you usually react when one of your team tells you that they think there’s something wrong with your business? Are you the type of leader with a tendency to react badly to criticism? Or the type who wouldn’t think twice about brushing off your staff member? If you answered yes – then quite frankly, you’re a bloody idiot.


Your employee could be right, and you should want to know about any issues that reflect badly on your company. After all, you aren’t always going to know everything. You need to face the brutal facts, instead of ignoring or brushing off the people who try and help improve your business.

The Harvard Business Review presents a good case study in which the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? ignored the advice of his VP of Finance who was cautioning their growth, because the VP was a quiet man and seen as “meek”. As a result, the CEO and COO ignored his warnings, the company expanded too quickly and eventually ran out of cash.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that successful organisations are built on an open communication culture. I’ve shared the four key ways to confront the facts of your current reality and determine corrective action without being confrontational.

  1. Lead by asking questions

It is impossible to make great decisions and change when you only push your thoughts and ideas on to others. If you want to be respected as a leader, you must encourage open and effective communication by asking probing questions at the right time. Show your team that you care about their opinion and throw questions at them that require careful thought and focus. The aim is to get honest answers that may highlight any obstacles and problems with your company.

That said, nothing positive can come from someone who is unwilling to listen to answers they do not want to hear. Remember, most of your workers will be nervous about speaking up and sharing the brutal facts with you. Regardless of your opinion, you must work collaboratively as a team and concentrate on where you need to be rather than what got you to where you are now.

  1. Create an environment where honesty is valued

Being heard is very different from being confident enough to say what you think. Every person that works for you should be comfortable to share their honest thoughts – which is why you need to encourage healthy debates. I’m not talking about arguments and differences of opinions that will put your team in a bad mood.

Just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t give you licence to boss people around. Your job is to demonstrate control when confronted with the brutal facts and guide your workers in a productive environment where conclusions can be reached – and you can all move on. Nothing shows authority more than motivating your people to engage in debate and dialogue without coercion.

  1. Investigate problems without pointing the finger

When things go wrong, most managers like to assign blame to protect themselves from being seen as a failure. Pointing the finger and embarrassing others is why these people will never become great leaders. No one can expect to honestly learn from blunders and avoid repeating the same mistakes when they are in denial about how they came about in the first place.

In the words of Dale Carnegie – “Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Whatever the situation, take responsibility for mistakes, analyse failures, and learn from them to ensure success further on down the road. One of the most effective ways to deal with a problem is to openly discuss with your team and decide, together, what needs to happen next.

  1. Create invaluable mechanisms

The greatest thing about creating an environment that allows colleagues to communicate problems without repercussions is finding out metrics and facts that can’t be ignored. Did you know that 54% of employees feel like they don’t regularly get respect from their employers? When you invite all the members of your organisation to raise a red flag when something is about to go wrong, it makes everyone feel valued and respected – and helps you identify potential stumbling blocks.

It’s crucial for every member of your group to feel like they are part of a team and can contribute to solutions – and never want to give up. When you know what you’re fighting, you can stand up to it and take action. Whatever the truth, you can still retain faith in your ability to succeed and have the edge over your competitors when you embrace a climate that energises people to communicate.

Get the right people on the bus!

Only Hire People Who Fit Your Business and Culture For A Smooth Ride

If you’re a leader of a retail company that’s at a standstill, you should focus your attention on the people around you – and especially those with the right talent. It’s a harsh fact of life that most companies hire individuals without the abilities and strengths to make a great impact on their business strategy. The most important question to ask yourself is “are you struggling with teamwork and results?”


By comparing companies to buses and the leaders to bus drivers, Jim Collins found that those who hire people for experience and qualifications over talent just end up with a bus full of underperforming staff.

In my experience, people truly are your best asset. All great leaders of retail businesses ask: “first who and then what?” Here’s how to ensure you adopt great hiring decisions and retain the right people on your bus for the long-term.

  1. Fill your bus with the right people

As a retail leader, it’s your job to be extremely careful when selecting the right people for your team. Thorough evaluations are key, so make sure you invest plenty of time in interviews, evaluating references and making background checks on each candidate. After all, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as Myer back in 2014 when they discovered that the man they hired as their General Manager of Strategy and Business Development had faked his resume. If you have any doubts about a potential employee, don’t hand them a golden ticket onto your bus.

Unless you’re confident that you’ve found the right people to take your company from good to great performance, let the seats go unfilled. It’s always better to take on extra work if necessary until you have found exceptional talent that can take your bus further on down the successful retail road.

  1. Get the right people in the right seats

Every bus will have key seats that represent the biggest opportunities, and yours is no exception. You can’t just overcrowd your bus with superior talent and wait for the magic to happen. You need to be sure that you give the right people the right seats and only keep them there if they prove they are going to drive your business in the right direction.

If at any time you feel someone isn’t pulling their weight in a key spot on the bus, give them the chance to prove themselves in a back seat. It’s perfectly ok to give them the boot from a prime seat if they are underachieving – or even a one-way ticket off the bus if they don’t appear to be great in any specific role.

  1. Kick the wrong people off the bus

Harsh, but true. At the end of the day, you want a highly successful team and business – without the hassle of babysitting and tightly managing the wrong people. You don’t have to be ruthless in chucking individuals off your bus, though. Try to be rigorous in the decision and implementation to ensure any of those who have left your bus can exit with dignity and still feel positive about your company.

When you eliminate the wrong people and have a bus filled with the right potential, it will become less a question of where you are headed – and more of how far your team can take your business. Plus, you’ll learn not to make the same hiring mistakes in the future.

  1. Maintain the right people on the bus

It’s crucial to give your hand-picked bus crew the opportunity to shine and exercise their talent and skills. The right people need to be self-motivated by an inner drive to produce great results and be part of a great team, which comes only with having the right people aboard. You also need to put your best people on your biggest opportunities, rather than on your biggest problems.

Regardless of where the bus goes, Jim Collins says that those who build and maintain a great company can also build a great life. For this to happen, you must build respect and empower your team by making sure they receive the recognition and rewards they deserve.




Why It’s Important to Ask the Right Questions

The problem with many business leaders is not that they don’t know the answer; it’s that they don’t know the problem. When solving a problem, you need to listen to everyone and ask the probing (and often uncomfortable) questions. You’ll know when you’ve hit on a hot topic by the reactions.


The best leaders are curious and are never ones to accept things just the way they are. You may think you ask a lot of questions, but when I ask executives how they know which ones to ask, they look back at me with a blank face. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to change – fast.

How well do you ask questions?

It’s a major part of your job that requires guts and skill. Most of us fall into bad habits from time to time, but excellent leaders are always asking what can be done differently and better. You also need to find the best time to ask probing questions to ensure frank and constructive responses from your team. Knowing how to ask questions that generate thought, focus and action will make a real difference to your success.

Seek out problems

“We keep looking for change in the wrong places, asking the wrong questions, and making the wrong assumptions.” Jim Collins is right. Rather than assume you know the answers and wait for problems to come to you, seek them out for yourself. Change is impossible if you are a rubbish questioner that doesn’t pay careful attention to a candid culture. A vital lesson I learned early on in my career was to seek out problems by asking the right questions. It’s that simple.

Listen and learn

Just because you have experience and a fancy title, it doesn’t mean that you know everything. It especially doesn’t mean that your only job is to boss people around and tell them what to do. When you go about asking questions, you must also genuinely listen to your workers. You’ll find questions thrown back at you. After learning a thing or two, you may even change your mind as to how you answer them.

Practice makes perfect

Always practice asking questions about yourself, projects, plans, and your company. Build relationships and ask what you could do better, how to improve a project and why your organisation does things in a certain way. Having the ability to ask questions that do not trigger a defensive response is a valuable management skill. Think about how you frame your questions in a way that can not only help to improve your success but also your workers’ motivation.

Why You Need to Challenge the Status Quo

Too often I hear “this is the way we have always done it.” I don’t care how you always did it; I want to do it better. In fact, I’ve actually told people that I will fire them if I hear them use those words.

Think differently - Being different, taking risky, move for success in life -The graphic of rocket also represents the concept of courage, enterprise, confidence, belief, fearless, daring,


If you’re only focused on your current success, then you’re foolish. You need to challenge the status quo, rather than stay stranded in your comfort zone. Because that’s what you’ll end up being – stranded.

Always strive for innovation

You never want to become irrelevant in the greater marketplace. Ok, so some traditional best practices may be proven to have positive effects on businesses, but you should always strive for something better. While you may argue that you don’t have the funds to experiment, I can assure you that you don’t need a super-sized budget.

Once you’ve challenged your current state of affairs, progress will depend on you as a leader. Remember, this is an opportunity to change things for the better.

Challenge all the time

“The key to change is first to understand what not to change and then to feel free to change everything else.” Jim Collins certainly knows what he’s talking about. Accept ‘challenge innovation’ and ask questions that require some level of thought to challenge your team’s mind-set. Create questions that spark energy and curiosity, and a safe space where they want to contribute.

Be careful not to sound too critical. Don’t ask “why aren’t we producing this in half the time?” Use motivational speech, such as “what if we could do this in half the time?” and “how do you think we can beat our competitors?” Motivate your people.

Have an open mind

Every brave leader with the guts to take bold risks and challenge the status quo can make a real difference. You need to be passionate about constantly learning and growing, as well as doing the unorthodox thing. With an open mind, you can entice new improvements and inspire those around you to think bigger and do better.

Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of new things and think outside of that bloody box. When something seems obvious, try something different. If you don’t, I guarantee someone else will.

Reward and exploit

Our world is increasingly competitive, and you must constantly adapt, nurture, grow and move forward. Many workers can get comfortable (and stagnant) and be resistant to change. That’s why it’s essential to create an environment where your team feels comfortable with sharing their ideas and have the freedom to express what they believe is and is not working well. I’ve lost count of the leaders I’ve met who don’t take the time to get feedback from co-workers.

Status Quo Roles Chart


Ensure great ideas are rewarded while trusting and supporting them to take the next step. You also need to walk the walk (not just talk the talk) by committing to any change with help from your empowered team.

You’re Never Wrong If You Do The Right Thing

It isn’t always easy to do the right thing in business, but trust me, your behaviour as a manager defines you. I have witnessed so many senior managers lose sight of what is really important, which has led them to great failure while leaving them digging themselves out of gigantic holes.

Word Cloud with Business Ethics related tags

Word Cloud with Business Ethics related tags

When you do things for all the wrong reasons, also expect your ethics to be questioned at any time by your customers, co-workers, and stakeholders. It’s vital that you’re always honest and have strong moral principles. Otherwise, you might as well wave goodbye to your management title now.

Integrity is a lost virtue, but if you stay true to the intent, you WILL come out ahead.

Going from good to great

“Companies do not fall primarily because of what the world does to them or because of how the world changes around them; they fall first and foremost because of what they do to themselves.” In that one sentence, Jim Collins, nails it on the head. Only you can control what happens next.

The rest of the world doesn’t hold all the cards in the pack. You might argue that it’s your customers that have the biggest influence on your success. Don’t waste your breath.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that ‘you’ aren’t the whole story. Without co-workers and customers, you’d be a sinking ship without a paddle. But it’s the decisions you make and how you meet challenges of doing the right thing that will always have the most impact on your business.

Develop a strong sense of ethics

Whatever the chapter or challenge in your career, you must decide on what you will and won’t do, and stick to it. All successful institutions are built on values and delivering excellent results, rather than just being focused on making as much money as possible.

You should use your strongly developed sense of ethics as a guide when taking actions. Most importantly, take responsibility for both the good and bad times, and never pass the blame onto others if the shit hits the fan.

Giving up is never an option

If your product or service doesn’t sell, it doesn’t have to be the end. Whatever your line of business, if something doesn’t work as well as you hoped, giving up isn’t an option. All great leaders that deliver exceptional results are kings at turning poor sales around.

With the right leaders, plenty of companies have overcome failure, and so can you. You just need to make the right decisions and do the right things.

Take Ken Iverson at Nucor Corp in the US for example. In 1965, Nucor Corp was a stone’s throw away from bankruptcy. But when Iverson was given the green light to try and turn the company around, the results were outstanding. Without his talent and determination, Nucor Corp would have never achieved 41 years of consecutive profitability or become creators of the lowest cost steel in America.

Understand and practice your company values

Better still, create some new ones. Values define what is important to both you and your company. From honesty and loyalty to open communication and security, any decent exec should be passionate about ensuring their environment aligns with the company values.

However, your personal values are likely to evolve with experience. I don’t have the right to tell you what those values are. That can only be up to you. I’m just pointing out that they don’t have to be set in stone, but should help your decision making as a leader.

One thing I do know for certain is that if you want others to trust and respect you, taking responsibility for your actions and a fixed desire to achieve great things is essential.

6 Things You Can Do To Transform Your Business

“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you”. That’s according to one of my favourite authors, Jim Collins.

Group of Business People Meeting Teamwork

Group of Business People Meeting Teamwork

Like me, Collins uses a straightforward, tough-love approach when it comes to achieving great change in all aspects of a retail company. I’ve struggled to find many excellent Australian retail leaders who have developed a deep understanding of what it takes to be a true leader.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but change myths can be scrubbed from your mind in an instant. From increasing customer satisfaction to mastering the art of long-term sales growth, I’ve shared 6 things you can do to transform your retail business.

  1. Find or Develop the Right Leader

I will admit, I’ve seen some examples of  good retail managers over the years that have experience in supporting the growth of retail. Having said that, most only have the talent for some aspects of the job, take themselves too seriously, and still need to develop their leadership abilities. Not enough execs give credit where credit is due and accept responsibility for any failures.

  1. Get the Right People on the Bus

Getting the right, motivated people on board is crucial to ensuring successful business transformation. I know many people avoid confrontation but if you want to succeed, you need to be ruthless. If anyone is as useful as a flat tyre or faulty engine, immediately ban them from climbing on board. The truth is that you have to begin with who you believe will genuinely help you change direction and produce fast-changing results.

  1. Confront the Brutal Facts

In the words of Winston Churchill, “there is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold false hopes soon to be swept away”.  Pay attention to the brutal facts, accept mistakes and learn from them. Whatever your current situation, you don’t need to give up or assign blame, but adopt an unwavering faith in future success (realistically of course). To be a respectable and honest company, you shouldn’t shy away from sharing facts about your circumstances and embracing the opinions of your staff.

  1. Find what you are passionate about, good at, and can make you money

No one can afford to target every market or expect everyone to fit into your bucket. It’s just common sense. But all good-to great leaders develop a hedgehog concept as they know how to simplify complexities and turn them into a simple, powerful idea. It’s much easier and more effective for your niche to thrive with a clearly defined target audience. Find what you are passionate about, what you’re truly great at and make sure your business stands head and shoulders above your competitors to reap the financial rewards.

  1. Create a culture of discipline rather than rules and regulations

You probably have a to-do list imprinted on your brain, but what about a stop-doing list? It’s probably something you haven’t even thought about since you’re too focused on getting every one of the to-do’s ticked off. Forget about rules and regulations for a minute and start communicating with every member of your team. If you want to achieve your business goals, it’s crucial that everyone pushes themselves to make great things happen. You don’t need to get wrapped up in bureaucracy and red tape, but you do need to be disciplined in your actions.

  1. Use Technology as an Accelerator

It’s no surprise that technology is a wonderful thing, but it certainly isn’t everything. It won’t hold your hand through a problem. The best systems in the world won’t be any help if you have sub-par retail staff or processes. Australian retailers have a tendency to focus their attention on technology, when in fact, it should only be used as an accelerator. Fine, use it to cover the basics and for analysing and adapting your behaviour while concentrating on what is vital, but don’t rely on tech to fix all your problems.

Retail Concepts Using “Good to Great”

Here is a simple take away cheat sheet that I use when presenting the six concepts of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and how they relate to the Retail Industry. It is not meant to be a deep dive into the book (some of my upcoming blogs will dig deeper into each concept), but rather a quick reference on the six concepts and a few important points.

Remember the Fly Wheel Effect – all of the concepts work together to achieve the results – there is no miracle moment – it is an evolution. We implemented these concepts at OrotonGroup prior to the major turnaround in the business 10 years ago.


Level 5 Leadership

Personal humility and professional will. They channel ambition into the organisation, not the self. Not a high flyer or larger than life. They look in the mirror when something goes wrong and look out the window when giving credit. Comfortable that they may not get credit for success. Many Australian Retailers achieve Level 4, but few achieve level 5.

First who, then what!

Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Begin with who, rather than what and the transformation will be easier. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. When you need to make a change, make it quickly. Retailers need to have the correct structure with the right people. Nepotism has created issues within several Australian retailers. Only hire friends or relatives if you can separate business with personal.

Confront the Brutal facts (The Stockdale Paradox)

Admiral James Stockdale survived 7 years in a Viet Cong POW camp by hanging onto two contrary beliefs – His Life couldn’t be worse at the moment (the brutal fact) and his life would someday be better than ever (unwavering faith). Be brutally honest about your current situation, but never give up. There are several retail examples in the past few years that demonstrate what happens when you wait too long to confront the brutal facts.

Hedgehog Concept

You need to be the best at your clearly defined niche. You cannot be all things to all people. The intersection between – what you are passionate about, what drives your economic engine and what you can be best at. A Fox knows a little about many things. A Fox is complex. A hedgehog knows only one thing very well. A hedgehog is simple. Department stores struggle with this whereas specialty stores often find this niche and thrive.

Culture of Discipline

Companies build rules to manage a small % of the wrong people which in turns frustrates the right people. A great organisation is high in entrepreneurship and high in discipline (a blend of magic and science). Get everyone going in the same direction with the same goals – communicate.

Technology Accelerators

Technology is not a fix to problems. It helps you achieve a great strategy, but it isn’t a strategy in itself. Use technology to truly differentiate yourself with competitors if warranted. Get the basics right with technology, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Aussie retailers love the concept of technology, but few do it well. If you choose to spend on new technology, make sure that you use it completely – if you collect data – analyse it and adapt your behaviour.


Being a leader vs. being a boss

Throughout your life and professional career you will come across two kinds of managers – leaders and bosses. It doesn’t matter what level these positions are – the managers that rule, scold and are overbearing are more likely to fail, whilst the managers who lead will be successful. Share a vision that people voluntarily want to follow, and you’ll never have to ‘boss’ anyone.

Being in a management role, you oversee a team of employees performing daily tasks and activities. It’s up to you to resolve any issues, hold employees accountable and make sure that the job is being performed to the best possible standards. The issue frequently found is that managers are ineffective leaders, thus resulting in unhappy employees, jobs finished in a poor/rushed/pressured manner leaving a high turnover of employees.

As a manager, it’s imperative to embody the role as a leader rather than a boss. I’ve previously touched on the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. One of the key philosophies I focus on ‘level 5 leadership’.

Great leaders surround themselves with people who support them in all aspects of their careers. It’s important to encourage and display your values through your behaviors and actions. People are more likely to trust and follow leader’s motives if they practice what they preach, after all actions speak louder than words.

Level 5 leaders blend personal humility with professional will. A leader has great ambitions, but will put the welfare of the business before their own gains. They will find great successors for themselves.

There are many things you should consider to be a strong leader. Instead of commanding and ruling your team, you’re best to encourage and lead them, showing them by example. Listen, speak and motivate them rather than command and terrify. Create enthusiasm instead of fear. Actively take part in activities and tasks as opposed to barking orders at anyone and everyone that will listen. Working alongside your employees allows you to gently approach weaknesses (and utilize and praise strengths) putting you in a position to be able to build up and coach them in these areas. Instead of taking praise & passing blame, fix the problem and give credit and praise where it’s due.

Whilst employees generally respect the boss, everyone loves the leader. Take for example receiving an email from your ‘boss’ – you form a defensive wall, a feeling of danger or agony. However, when you receive an email from your ‘leader’ you’re calm and open to what they’re asking of you or bringing to your attention, resulting in a happier more productive work place and greater lines of communication, thus resulting in a win for both the employee and leader.

As a manager you have a choice, to be good or great. Be a boss or a leader. Next time you go to say ‘I’ change it to ‘we’. And next time you go to say “go”, work on changing it to “Let’s go”. You may think this is only a tiny change, adding a few words into your sentence; however this change of wording makes a huge difference. Being a leader doesn’t require a title, just as having a title doesn’t inherently make you one.