Five universal business insights for leaders dealing with any aspect of business

To manage businesses and lead people can be a daunting challenge. Change is prevalent, competition is severe and people are complex.
The volumes that has been published on research, best practices and experience by many, makes up many gigabytes. But being in the business of business and management knowledge I often wonder how does one makes sense of at all?

I recently came across some good advice. In the newly published ASTD Management Development Handbook, Todd Sattersten, the author of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time, identified five universal themes in business. These five persistent meta-themes were found across their selection of the 100 best business books.

Each meta-theme appears horizontally across traditional publishing categories bridging such divisions as sales, management, narrative and finance. Each meta-theme also scales in a vertical sense, applying to individuals, teams and organisations equally.

So profound are these meta-themes they argue, that these five universal insights act as the foundation for a leader dealing with any aspect of business, whether starting a new job or developing the next year’s corporate strategy.

  1. Clarity of Purpose: Purpose provides direction and brings clarity to all work. For the individual in pursuit of purpose, author Po Bronson asks the ultimate question in his book, What Should I Do with My Life? Organizations often struggle with the same kind of question when they craft their mission statements and massage their marketing slogans.
  2. Wisdom in Decision Making: The process of making decisions is often overly deliberate or completely unconscious. In both cases, we base our decisions on past experience and judge our successes only on the outcomes. In Influence, Robert Cialdini alerts us to how we use unconscious routine to make even the smallest decision, while in The Power of Intuition, Gary Klein provides a map to some of that scripting and shows how we can improve our gut instinct.
  3. Bias for Action: Tom Peters and Bob Waterman point out in In Search of Excellence that a quality of excellent companies is “their bias for action”. This assertion that action trumps all, appears in many great books… So what keeps us from taking action? Author David Allen (Getting Things Done) would say a person’s focus is misplaced on time and priority, rather than action.
  4. Openness to Change: Understanding change is essential because change affects individuals and organisations constantly. Sales is about change. Marketing is about change. Corporate strategy is about change.
  5. Giving and Getting Feedback: Imagine throwing a baseball in a dark room. You would miss seeing the trajectory the ball took or where it landed. Our success depends on feedback. Did we make the right choice? Did the action have the intended effect? Are things changing? Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) says self-reflection is a form of feedback and an essential piece of emotional intelligence. Engineering professor Henry Petroski, author of To Engineer Is Human, says failure is a critical part of learning.

These five meta-themes are not only important on an individual level, but they also overlap and reinforce one another. For instance, Peter Drucker said in The Effective Executive that decisions are not truly made until someone is doing something different than he or she was the day before. And it is clear that feedback determines the success one has with any and all of the other meta-themes.

The five meta-themes feed into each other as well. Clarity of purpose provides wisdom in decision making, which informs action, which creates change, while feedback makes everything work better.

Todd Sattersten contends that it’s clear that organisations continually fail to absorb those simple lessons. My opinion is that HR and specifically the HRBP role should facilitate the internalisation of these basic laws amongst manages and leaders. It will not only enhance their own credibility but also ensure that organisations will function better, grow and flourish.

If you are interested in more on this theme, download the brochure of the upcoming HR Business Partner Conference on 9,10 and 11th September 2013.  These themes will all be addressed in one way or the other for example:

  1. Clarity of Purpose: S’ne Mkhize, Group General Manager: HR, Sasol will be discussing “Moving from the Transactional to the Transformational”
  2. Wisdom in Decision Making: Cynthia Schoman, MD, Ethics Monitor will be talking about “HR as the driver of ethics in the organisation”
  3. Bias for Action: Jerry Molefe, HR Director Evraz Highveld Steel & Vanadium will be presenting “HR Strategy that delivers”
  4. Openness to Change: At the workshop facilitated by Ester Kruger, Senior Consultant, BIOSS Southern Africa will be discussing “HR as Change Agent – Make a real difference!”.
  5. Giving and Getting Feedback: Tjaart Kruger, CEO, Premier Foods will be talking about “The CEO view – What every HR Department should focus and deliver on”.

To find out more about this conference – click here now.

Best regards,

Wilhelm Crous


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