Global Advisors' Updates


Updates about our firm and team.

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Outperforming through the downturn AND the cost of ignoring full potential

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Outperforming through the downturn AND the cost of ignoring full potential

Press drew attention last year to a slew of JSE-listed companies whose share prices had collapsed over the past few years. Some were previous investor darlings. Analysis pointed to a toxic combination of decreasing earnings growth and increased leverage. While this might be a warning to investors of a company in trouble, what fundamentals drive this combination?

In our analysis, company expansion driven by the need to compensate for poor performance in their core business is a typical driver of exactly this outcome.

This article was written in January 2020 but publication was delayed due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Five months after South Africa’s first case, we update our analysis and show that core-based companies outperformed diverse peers by 29% over the period.

Management should always seek to reach full potential in their core business. Attempts to expand should be to a clearly logical set of adjacencies to which they can apply their capabilities using a repeatable business model.

In the article “Steinhoff, Tongaat, Omnia… Here’s the dead giveaway that you should have avoided these companies, says an asset manager,” (Business Insider SA, Jun 11, 2019) Helena Wasserman lists a number of Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed shares that have plummeted in recent years.

In many cases these companies’ corresponding sectors have been declining. However, in most of the sectors there is at least one company that has outperformed the rest. What is it about these outperformers that distinguishes them from the rest?

The outperformers have typically shown strong financial performance – be that Growth, ROE, ROA, RONA or Asset Turnover – and varying degrees of leverage. However, performance against these metrics is by no means consistent – see our analysis.

What is consistent is that the outperformers all show clearly delineated core businesses and ongoing growth towards full potential in these businesses alongside growth into clear adjacencies that protect, enhance and leverage the core. In some cases, the core may have been or is currently being redefined, typically through gradual, step-wise extension along logical adjacencies. Redefinition is particularly important in light of the digital transformation seen in many industries. The outperformers are very seldom diversified across unrelated business segments – although isolated examples such as Bidvest clearly exist in other sectors.

Analysis of the over- and underperformers in the sectors highlighted in the article shows that those following a clear core-based strategy have typically outperformed peers through the initial months of the downturn caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Leading a deliberate life

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Leading a deliberate life

By Marc Wilson
Marc is a partner at Global Advisors and based in Johannesburg, South Africa

Download this article at https://globaladvisors.biz/blog/2018/06/26/leading-a-deliberate-life/.

Picket fences. Family of four. Management position.

Mid-life crisis. Meaning. Purpose.

Someone once said that, “At 18, I had all the answers. At 35, I realised I didn’t know the question.”

Serendipity has a lot going for it. Many people might sail through life taking what comes and enjoying the moment. Others might be open to chance and have nothing go right for them.

Some people might strive to achieve, realise rare successes and be bitterly unhappy. Others might be driven and enjoy incredible success and fulfilment.

Perhaps the majority of us become beholden to the momentum of our lives.

We might study, start a career, marry, buy a dream house, have children, send them to a top school. Those steps make up components of many of our dreams. They are steps that may define each subsequent choice. As I discussed this with a friend recently, he remarked that few of these steps had been subject of deliberations in his life – increasingly these steps were the outcome of momentum. Each will shape every step he takes for the rest of his life. He would not have things any other way, but if he knew what he knows now, he might have been more deliberate about choice and consequence…..

Read more at https://globaladvisors.biz/blog/2018/06/26/leading-a-deliberate-life/


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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Passive aggressiveness is a cancer

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Passive aggressiveness is a cancer

By Marc Wilson
Marc is a partner at Global Advisors and based in Johannesburg, South Africa

Download this article at http://www.globaladvisors.biz/uncategorized-2/20171024/passive-aggressiveness-is-a-cancer/.

Everybody knows the behaviour. We all experience it from others and all of us will be guilty of it at one time or another.

The sulky silence, the acquiescent “Yes,” the reserved feedback, the withheld compliment, not accepting compliments, the refusal to participate, minimum acceptable effort, sarcasm, put-downs, “forgetting,” lying, procrastinating – they’re all examples of passive aggressive behaviour. It is the cancer eating at your relationships with your significant other, your co-workers, your friends and your family.

If you are a leader it is the cancer eating at your organisation.

Maybe passive aggressive behaviour exists to an even greater extent in relationships we are committed to – our families will still be family, our spouses are married to us for better or worse. It allows the behaviour to continue to a far greater extent than an acquaintance might.

In most ways, passive aggressiveness is worse than outright aggression. An argument can be resolved, criticism understood and anger or sadness worked on and resolved. Passive aggression invites no constructive response and escalates rather than resolves issues.

Maybe passive aggressiveness starts through unspoken anger, resentment or sadness. Maybe it starts from fear and being disempowered. Maybe from a lack of caring enough to…

Read more at http://www.globaladvisors.biz/uncategorized-2/20171024/passive-aggressiveness-is-a-cancer/


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Global Advisors alumnus Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh visits the Johannesburg office

Democracy and Delusion: book coverWe were delighted to welcome Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh to our Johannesburg offices today.

Sizwe worked at Global Advisors in 2013 before accepting a scholarship to read for his masters and doctorate at Oxford University. He was awarded his masters and is currently completing his doctorate. Sizwe had been based at our old offices in Hyde Park and this was his first visit to our new offices in Sandton.

He recently published his first book and CD, “Democracy and Delusion – 10 Myths in South African Politics.”

Sizwe described the value gained from his consulting experience: “Consulting showed me that we often debate issues esoterically – without understanding the available data and therefore what is myth and what is reality. That helped me with the idea for this book.”

Sizwe also found that the exacting demands of consulting also prepared him well for the busy life he has taken on. He has simultaneously juggled studies, political involvement, authoring a book and recording a CD – and married life. He magnanimously says this was easy after consulting!

Sizwe was impressed by the growth in Global Advisors since he had left – particularly the library. He gave a gift of his book and CD to add to our collection.

Well done Sizwe! All the best with the book and CD!

Some of the Global Advisors team and alumnus Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh
Some of the Global Advisors team and alumnus Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Is insecurity behind that dysfunction?

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Is insecurity behind that dysfunction?

By Marc Wilson
Marc is a partner at Global Advisors and based in Johannesburg, South Africa

Download this article at http://www.globaladvisors.biz/inc-feed/20170907/thoughts-is-insecurity-behind-that-dysfunction

We tend to characterise insecurity as what we see in overtly fragile, shy and awkward people. We think that their insecurity presents as lack of confidence. And often we associate it with under-achievement.

Sometimes we might be aware that insecurities can lie behind the -ias, -isms and the phobias. Body dysmorphia? Insecurity about attractiveness. Racism? Often the need to find security by claiming superiority, belonging to group with power, a group you understand and whose acceptance you want. Homophobia? Often insecurity about one’s own sexuality or masculinity / feminity.

So it is often counter-intuitive when we discover that often behind incredible success lies – insecurity! In fact, an article I once read described the successful elite of strategy consulting firms as typically “insecure over-achievers.”

Insecurity must be one of the most misunderstood drivers of dysfunction. Instead we see its related symptoms and react to those. “That woman is so overbearing. That guy is so aggressive! That girl is so self-absorbed. That guy is so competitive.” Even, “That guy is so arrogant.”

How is it that someone we might perceive as competitive, arrogant or overconfident might be insecure? Sometimes people overcompensate to hide a weakness or insecurity. Sometimes in an effort to avoid feeling defensive of a perceived shortcoming, they might go on the offensive – telling people they are the opposite or even faking security.

Do we even know what insecurity is? The very need to…

Read the rest of “Power, Control and Space” at http://www.globaladvisors.biz/inc-feed/20170907/thoughts-is-insecurity-behind-that-dysfunction

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: So you think you’re self-aware?

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: So you think you’re self-aware?

So you think you’re self-aware?

By Marc Wilson

So you think you’re self-aware? 95% of people believe themselves to be self-aware. Recent research shows that just 10 to 15% of people are (Eurich, T – “Insight” – Crown Business – 2017).

Self-awareness may be the most elusive and challenging skill we attempt to gain. It is a foundation for authentic leadership, it is required to be empathetic, it helps us conquer our insecurities, it is critical for robust, true friendship and love. Without it, we can never be sure that we will achieve happiness. Without self-awareness success will be ill-defined. Also, we will never be sure if how we act and react to others is real or merely a result of our attempts to craft our image to meet our own or others’ desires – or in order to avoid being what we fear.

For many of us, there are people around us who have a better understanding of us than we do ourselves. We delude ourselves based on what we want to be or don’t want to be. It is also a sad reality that our true self….


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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Getting the Balance Right

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Getting the Balance Right

By Kate Barnes

I am a working mother, as are many of my friends and past colleagues. Naturally we often debate the challenges of getting the balance between work and family right.

Personal circumstances vary widely and have a big impact on the choices one has, but my solution has been to work on a part-time basis. I have been lucky enough to do so for the past seven years and to me it seems like an excellent compromise. Yet there are many times when it feels like balance is the last thing I am achieving – in fact, I have the distinct feeling that I am failing on every front – my kids, my husband, and my boss, colleagues or direct reports, all want more of me.

Perhaps the truth is that I want too much. I want to be stimulated, challenged and to feel like I am adding value in the work place, but I also want to see my children more than the average, full-time working mother.

Many working mothers have made decisions involving changes to their working day in order to manage the work-family balance better. Unfortunately, I have found that one of the biggest issues is that one cannot simply decide on an approach, agree it with your employer, and then settle into whatever routine that entails. You might agree an arrangement to work 5, or 6 or 7 hours a day, or 30 hours a week, or to arrive at work early and leave by 3 or 4pm. But in most jobs, you will have to consider the balance equation on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. Is today the day I give more to work because there is a demanding deadline and everyone else is working late, or is it the day I give more to my child, because he is receiving an award at school or swimming in a gala?

And often the call has to be made taking into consideration not only what is happening today, but also looking at where the pendulum fell yesterday, or last week, or over the past couple of weeks.

As with any decision there are consequences, even if at first they are unforeseen. In the early stages of my career, I like many, was an idealistic youngster with dreams of holding a very senior, leadership position. I was ambitious, and some might say that I had much of what it takes to achieve my goal. Some years down the track I was being interviewed for a prospective job and the potential employer noted from my CV that the achievements in my career (or lack thereof) were not in line with my academic record, and he wondered why this was. I can’t remember what my response was, but I know I knew the answer. I even knew at exactly which point in my career the upward trajectory slowed. It was the day I was working at a large corporate, and I asked for flexitime. I negotiated that on two afternoons a week, I would be allowed to leave at 2pm and I would make up the time in the evening, after my young children were asleep.

Shortly thereafter, when a potential internal move to a new position was being discussed I was informed that I could not be considered for the role as I was “part-time”.

This was a wake-up call.

Read more at http://www.globaladvisors.biz/thoughts/20170719/getting-the-balance-right/

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts:  Empathy and understanding – why they are the qualities that help us achieve our own happiness and success

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Empathy and understanding – why they are the qualities that help us achieve our own happiness and success

Two kids walking

By Marc Wilson

Our team had just finished a book review presentation on Dale Carnegie’s “Making Friends and Influencing People”. Jane (*name changed) looked troubled: “Isn’t this stuff about manipulating people?”
Therein lies a paradox in showing empathy: without empathy for others, you face less influence, friendship, love and success. But if those are your goal rather than the sincere care for others, then your empathy is not really empathy at all.

Many people might react to empathy as “soft.” But empathy is a mark of incredible strength. It dares us to care. It requires us to put ourselves to one side. It requires us to be vulnerable – otherwise all we are doing is showing sympathy. Empathy requires self-awareness and skill.

Sympathy is easy. Sympathy does not go as far as empathy – it keeps us distant from the situation someone else is experiencing. It places us in danger of being condescending. Empathy requires us to put our self into their situation as them – not us.

Empathy gets the best out of those around us – and opens us up to be a better version of ourselves.

I find it incredibly difficult to manage a balance. A balance of being sufficiently confident and willing to share my own experience in an unbiased and helpful way – while removing enough of myself to allow someone else to find their own path and live their own experience. To be an empathetic leader, I believe I need to care about my team being at their best at work and in life.

Skills such as active listening are important to remove ourselves from the coaching we give others. But I think empathy requires us to be authentically present and involved in a way that facilitating someone else’s own solution does not.

Empathetic leadership challenges me to use my own experience and position in a way that is open to the challenges and experiences of others. And most critically demonstrates that I act out of care and acknowledgement of them.

Empathy requires that we know our self well enough that we are able to remove our projections of our own biases and feelings from the situation, appreciate the other person’s view of the world and how that impacts the situation for them.

Think about how you respond to others. How often do you respond to their experience, feelings and fears based on your own fears? Do your responses contain the word “I?” Do you fear genuinely experiencing the world as them? Do you seek to affirm your own view and experience through your response? Are you scared as being seen as similar to the other person in their own “deficiencies” and “imperfections”? How many of these imperfections are merely your own biases and fears?

Read more by clicking here: http://www.globaladvisors.biz/thoughts/20170627/empathy-and-understanding-why-they-are-the-qualities-that-help-us-achieve-our-own-happiness-and-success

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Who are you and what did you do with my team member?

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Who are you and what did you do with my team member?

By Marc Wilson

(Alternative titles could be: “Who are you and what did you do with the person I hired? “Who are you and what did you do with the boss who hired me?” “Who are you and what did you do with my client?” …)

Some years ago, a friend of many friends died tragically. I had never met Joe (not his real name) but often heard of him. He was exceptionally popular and well known. In fact, he was clearly loved by a huge group of people.

What followed Joe’s death was amazing. Hundreds of people went to a Facebook page and wrote of their sadness and memories of him. Many were personal, some merely referring to chance meetings and the incredible impression he had left on them. Some were even from people who had not met him, but were moved by his impact on people they knew.

One person wrote of meeting Joe at a party and how even though this was their first and only meeting, Joe had showed so much interest in her and interacted with her like an old friend. She had felt special – and left with an impression of how special Joe was.

Another wrote of a childhood cricket experience. He had played a blinding hook shot only to be caught by Joe at square leg in the crease of an arm. Joe had laughed and apologised repeatedly for accidentally catching him out off such good shot. Joe was secure with himself and the world and didn’t seem to need praise or undue accolades.

It was incredible. This was the type of person that most of us hope to be. Super-achiever, immensely popular, loving and loved. Years later, people still go back to that page and comment.

Joe committed suicide. It did not fit with …. Read more here: https://globaladvisors.biz/thoughts/20170601/who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-team-member

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The move to our Johannesburg offices in central Sandton

The move to our Johannesburg offices in central Sandton

In August 2016 – the year of our 10th Anniversary – Global Advisors moved from our Hyde Park Johannesburg offices to the 16th floor of The Forum in central Sandton.

The new offices in central Sandton

Our previous Hyde Park offices

The new offices – Before

The new offices – Planning and construction

The new offices – Post completion

The new offices – Room names

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2017 experienced hires

New joiners in Global Advisors are usually graduates. We’ve become accustomed to welcoming them and making a fuss of them as part of normal business. So it’s quite special when we make experienced hires and have the opportunity to share our excitement with the outside world.

We’ve been hugely fortunate to recently make two experienced hires – two amazing individuals who add an enormous amount to our team.

Kate Barnes is an experienced consultant and business professional – and a working mother and trail runner! Kate has extensive experience in management consulting from positions held at a number of organisations including Gemini Consulting and Mac Consulting. She has worked on strategy formulation in a several industries including wholesale and retail, FMCG, mining, and mining engineering.

Kate has also been involved in operational and performance improvement initiatives, including hot housing, business process reengineering, Balanced Scorecard implementation, Business Operating Model assessment and capability mapping. Kate has worked in line management positions at Standard Bank, in the areas of customer strategy and value proposition development, product management and business architecture. She has also had programme and project manager roles while working as a contractor and managing several software development projects in the Financial Services sector.

Kate joins us in the role of Principal consultant and is already playing an important role in our business leadership. We’re really fortunate to welcome Kate to the team and leverage off her fantastic experience.

Daniel Rowland is an experienced business finance professional – and a professional desert and trail runner! Daniel has working experience in multiple countries around the world and is currently based in Switzerland. He has a background in corporate finance, exploration projects and project evaluation in the mining industry.

Daniel has won the 250km multi-stage Atacama Crossing desert race, the 250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon and the 230km Amazon Jungle Ultra. He has placed in many other races and pursued Olympic triathlon training immediately after school.

Daniel worked with a South African mining company to evaluate the expansion of operations beyond the existing pit and plants. He worked for Anglo American based on a remote copper exploration project in North America preparing and controlling the budget and costs of exploration, mine design and environmental liaisons. He worked with Anglo in South America where his role included reporting to group headquarters on monthly mine performance and evaluating new capital investment projects for the different mines. Since joining Global Advisors, Daniel has worked in the FMCG industry on a project to develop a portfolio strategy.

We are tremendously honoured that Daniel has agreed to take on a part-time role with Global Advisors where he has joined us in the Consultant position. He continues his professional running career and has upcoming races on the Eiger Ultra and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. We learn from Daniel’s tremendous discipline, positive attitude and world-leading success every day. We first learnt from this in a talk Daniel gave to the team in 2013 after winning the Atacama crossing. You can read about that here.

Daniel Rowland winning the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 (picture HermienWebb Photography, Facebook) Daniel Rowland winning the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 (picture Hermien Webb Photography, Facebook)
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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Business success. Get real.

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Business success. Get real.

By Marc Wilson

We all want success. And as we embark on a career, most of us want to be successful. But when I probe aspirations, “being successful” is usually a proxy for “I want the rewards / power  /status of success.”

If you think that business success has different rules to success in sports, less reliance on discipline, more reliance on connections and things out of your control, reconsider or stop reading.

If your job is a ticket to a pay-cheque, is so-many-hours-per-day, stop reading.

Brutally, most of us will not be successful. We will not achieve stand-out performance. We will under-achieve our childish dreams. Choose:

  1. Continue to fantasize OR
  2. Get real and set your targets lower OR
  3. Confront the challenge and do what it takes to chase your dream.

Dreaming is important. It is the often the reason that we try at all. But the great achievers realise that a dream without a plan and action remains a fantasy.

“…in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” — U.S. President Barack Obama

Obama was quoting “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

When I was younger and starting out, I think I marked a lot of my desires for success in positions or promotions I hoped to achieve. In the first draft of this article, someone remarked that I had not mentioned promotion once. That is quite a stunning reflection. I believe my experience and growing up helped me realise that promotion and position reflect a result of success rather than success in itself.

Many of us do fantasize. As adolescents, we dream of mansions and sports cars, of power and glory, of beautiful spouses and successful children. As we begin our career journey, these dreams inevitably meet reality. We may continue to deny reasons for the gap between dreams and reality, but many reach a realisation at some point that not everybody can be excellent – by definition. And that to be excellent, we need to be doing things better than those in our defined benchmark.

We fantasize for good reason. Life is hard. As we become more experienced, we discover that achieving success typically requires far more from us than we imagined, we are not all exceptional, success is often dependent on the support of others – and people and relationships are not predictable. Life throws curve balls – illness, family needs and financial constraints to name a few.

But if we are to undertake an adult approach to success, it becomes time to replace fantasy with a deliberate approach to achieving our dreams.

What is success? At its simplest, success is achieving a goal. Being successful is therefore achieving goals regularly. But to most of us, being successful is more than this. Being successful in many people’s minds equates to excellence. Excellence – exceeding standard performance, standing-out, being the best. And pointedly, the rewards most desire for being successful equate with those for excellence.

This is an important distinction. The definition of excellence seems to be far more closely aligned with the aspirations of those with the desire to be successful. The measures of excellence are far more objective and demanding than those of success.

We tend to apply different rules to business success. It must be balanced. It must be within its 9-to-5 box. Here is my challenge to you: if you desire super-achiever business status, why would the lessons learnt from Olympian sports success be different to achieving Olympian stand-out performance in business?

Olympic sports success is not balanced. It is not confined to a part of the day. Olympian sports success is obsessive. It is unbalanced. It is single-minded. It requires brutal sacrifice and pain (see the graphic to the left showing the cost and effort required to get into the Olympics – source: Voucherbox). Why would being the best in your business field require anything less?

I think we tend to create an artificial distinction because an Olympic goal might be confined to a target by the age of 30. Thereafter an athlete can retire to a “normal” life. Similarly, an overachieving student might single-mindedly pursue “top-of the-class” performance knowing that the pain and sacrifice will end with the award of a degree. A business career is part of most of our adult lives and sacrifice for that amount of time is untenable for most people. For this reason, careers like investment banking and management consulting tend to have short lifespans before achievers move on to a second phase. I believe that for this reason they tend to attract more employees seeking super-achievement before the “second-phase” – people will accept the discomfort for a short time horizon.

I believe that there are fifteen determinants to achieving business-career excellence.

1. Get real – look outwards

It is impossible for everybody to…. To read more click here.

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Should you be restructuring (again)?

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Should you be restructuring (again)?

By Marc Wilson

Photo by John Chew

You don’t take a hospital visit for surgery lightly. In fact, neither do good surgeons. Most recommend conservative treatment first due to risks and trauma involved in surgical procedures. Restructuring is the orthopaedic surgery of corporate change. Yet it is often the go-to option for leaders as they seek to address a problem or spark an improvement.

Restructuring offers quick impact

It is easy to see why restructuring can be so alluring. It has the promise of a quick impact. It will certainly give you that. Yet it should be last option you take in most scenarios.

Most active people have had some nagging injury at some point. Remember that debilitating foot or knee injury? How each movement brought about pain and when things seemed better a return to action brought the injury right back to the fore? When you visited your doctor, he gave two options: a program of physiotherapy over an extended period with a good chance of success or corrective surgery that may or may not fix the problem more quickly. Which did you choose? If you’re like me, the promise of the quick pain with quick solution merited serious consideration. But at the same time, the concern over undergoing surgery with its attendant risks for potential relief without guarantee is hugely concerning.

No amount of physiotherapy will cure a crookedly-healed bone. A good orthopaedic surgeon might perform a procedure that addresses the issues even if painful and with long term recovery consequences.

That’s restructuring. It is the only option for a “crooked bone” equivalent. It may well be the right procedure to address dysfunction, but it has risks. Orthopaedic surgery would not be prescribed to address a muscular dysfunction. Neither should restructuring be executed to deal with a problem person. Surgery would not be undertaken to address a suboptimal athletic action. Neither should restructuring be undertaken to address broken processes. And no amount of surgery will turn an unfit average athlete into a race winner. Neither will restructuring address problems with strategic positioning and corporate fitness. All of that said, a broken structure that results in lack of appropriate focus and political roadblocks can be akin to a compound fracture – no amount of physiotherapy will heal it and poor treatment might well threaten the life of the patient.

What are you dealing with: a poorly performing person, broken processes or a structure that results in poor market focus and impedes optimum function?

Perennial restructuring

Many organisations I have worked with adopt a restructuring exercise every few years. This often coincides with a change in leadership or a poor financial result. It typically occurs after a consulting intervention. When I consult with leadership teams, my warning is a rule of thumb – any major restructure will take one-and-a-half years to deliver results. This is equivalent to full remuneration cycle and some implementation time. The risk of failure is high: the surgery will be painful and the side-effects might be dramatic. Why?

Restructuring involves changes in reporting lines and the relationships between people. This is political change. New ways of working will be tried in an effort to build successful working relationships and please a new boss. Teams will be reformed and require time to form, storm, norm and perform. People will take time to agree, understand and embed their new roles and responsibilities. The effect of incentives will be felt somewhere down the line.

Restructuring is often attempted to avoid the medium-to-long-term delivery of change through process change and mobilisation. As can be seen, this under-appreciates that these and other facets of change are usually required to deliver on the promise of a new structure anyway.

Restructuring creates uncertainty in anticipation

Restructuring also impacts through anticipation. Think of the athlete waiting for surgery. Exercise might stop, mental excuses for current performance might start, dread of the impending pain and recovery might set in. Similarly, personnel waiting for a structural change typically fret over the change in their roles, their reporting relationships and begin to see excuses for poor performance in the status quo. The longer the uncertainty over potential restructuring lasts, the more debilitating the effect.

Leaders feel empowered through restructuring

The role of the leader should also be considered. Leaders often feel powerless or lack capacity and time to implement fundamental change in processes and team performance. They can restructure definitively and feel empowered by doing so. This is equivalent to the athlete overruling the doctors advice and undergoing surgery, knowing that action is taking place – rather than relying on corrective therapeutic action. A great deal of introspection should be undertaken by the leader. “Am I calling for a restructure because I can, knowing that change will result?” Such action can be self-satisfying rather than remedial.

Is structure the source of the problem?

Restructuring and surgery are about people. While both may be necessary, the effects can be severe and may not fix the underlying problem. Leaders should consider the true source of underperformance and practice introspection – “Am I seeking the allure of a quick fix for a problem that require more conservative longer-term treatment?”

Photo by John Chew

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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: How Daniel Rowland is relevant to your business success

Global Advisors’ Thoughts: How Daniel Rowland is relevant to your business success

Recently Global Advisors hosted multi-stage ultra-marathon runner Daniel Rowland as he gave a talk about his training and racing approach. The talk happened prior to Daniel racing in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 – a 250km multi-stage race that takes place over 7 days through the extreme heat and difficult terrain of the Kalahari Desert. Competitors carry their own food, bedding, etc – water and sleeping tents are provided.

Daniel Rowland winning the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 (picture HermienWebb Photography, Facebook)

Daniel Rowland winning the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2013 (picture Hermien Webb Photography, Facebook)

Daniel won in a course record time. Earlier this year Daniel won the Atacama Crossing – another 250km multi-stage self-supported desert race across the Atacama Desert (the driest place on earth) and part of the prestigious Four Desert Series. The Four Desert Series attracts some of the finest Ultra-Marathon athletes in the world who compete only for the prestige – there is no prize money. These two races are Daniel’s first two multi-stage races in his first year as a professional runner.

Daniel Rowalnd leads the Atacama Crossing 2013 field en-route to victory (Picture Shaun Boyte in Trail Magazine Issue 7 - dwrowland.com)

Daniel Rowland leads the Atacama Crossing 2013 field en-route to victory (Picture Shaun Boyte in Trail Magazine Issue 7 – dwrowland.com)

There is no doubt that Daniel is a talented sportsman – he represented Zimbabwe as a triathlete and trained as a potential Olympian. But there are many talented athletes that fail to achieve sporting success. What makes Daniel as successful as he is?

Daniel abandoned his Olympic ambitions to study a Business Science degree at UCT. He was selected as a McKinsey intern. Following this he went on to work for Anglo American in South Africa, Alaska and Chile. Two-and-a-half years ago, Daniel entered his first ultra-marathon beyond 50km – the 100 mile Sustina race through the depths of the Alaskan winter, battling snow and night. Daniel finished fourth. Following Daniel’s blog (www.dwrowland.com) as an interested spectator and recreational runner with no real ambitions of running an ultra myself, I was struck by the regimen that Daniel adopts to life in general and running in particular. Even in his early ultra exploits, Daniel exemplified a simple approach that underlies most key management theory – Plan, Do, Review (PDR).

Plan appropriately for the execution against the goals that you aim to achieve, Do what you planned to and Review your execution against the plan.

This is not a once-off process – it can be repeated many times within a broader cycle and even within execution itself. Organisations might set five year strategies and budgets and then repeat the cycle on a yearly, quarterly or even short interval basis (for example, agreeing and reviewing plans at the beginning and end of shifts – a process typically referred to as short-interval controls). A rugby team might agree a game plan and evaluate its success during stoppages and breaks.

The PDR cycle is followed either consciously or subconsciously by outstanding performers in every field from arts to sport to business. It is a discipline. And like all disciplines it takes practice and fine-tuning to meet the needs of individuals and companies.

Daniel exemplifies the approach. He chooses a goal that is aligned to his interests and who he inherently is. He chooses a race goal and works backwards to fit in all the aspects of training, testing and recovery. He prepares a tailored program with his coach based on his knowledge, Daniel’s input and past performance. Daniel describes execution as doing what he knows he needs to do to achieve his goals.

Daniel is fastidious about all these aspects. He trains in blocks that ramp up to race distances and conditions. He tests all aspects of race conditions, including the diet he will live on in the desert, with the exact pack and equipment he will run with and in conditions on the race course or as close to these as he can find. His approach to optimizing his back pack illustrates this.

Daniel’s Augrabies pack weighed 6kgs and included 3,6kgs of food. Most of his competitors’ packs were 10kg or more. To accomplish the optimum pack weight required much more than selecting equipment against a recipe. He chose a pack that was lightweight and that he found comfortable. He trimmed excess strap lengths. He took the required equipment list (things like eating and cooking utensils, emergency equipment, etc) in their most minimally adequate form. He created a race diet that had the highest calorie to weight ratio possible. And he trained with the pack and on the diet, gradually tuning his choices and becoming utterly familiar with the diet and running with the pack for the periods and conditions matching those of the race. He blogs about all of his choices and tracks progress with data from his heart rate monitor supplemented with his logs of how he felt and his thoughts on what worked and what could be improved.

Every two weeks, Daniel runs a test on the same 12km route, in the same heart rate zone with the same pack weight and as-close-to-optimal body weight. He tracks his time on the test for improvement over the 30 week program leading up to a race.

While Daniel is clinical about the technical aspects of a race, he recognizes the critical importance of emotions – confidence and enjoyment are key to his success. He underpins what he does with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. This includes enough sleep and recovery time and the community he surrounds himself with. Besides the general community of friends, Daniel’s core team is made up of people he trusts and who create confidence for him because they are present and contributing with a collective goal in mind. This team is comprised of his partner, coach and sponsor – a small and completely trusted core team.

It is an impressive routine and discipline for someone who not long ago, started out training in the very early hours of the morning prior to a demanding corporate job. All the discipline would mean little without stressing himself to the optimum level, and showing incredible willpower and drive. Daniel has willpower and drive in bucket-loads. What stood out to me is that while a level of willpower and drive is a product of who we are, Daniel manages this aspect carefully too. He takes care to push himself enough to develop greater levels of performance while managing the risk of illness and injury – an optimal stress level. Technical training, emotion and health all contribute to setting this optimum. Daniel recognises willpower is a limited resource and ensures he makes focused use of his reserves through routines and removing obstacles. He creates drive through seeing the excellence in others, momentary inspiration, his enduring motivation and the performance of competitors.

Daniel with some of the Global Advisors team after his presentation

Daniel with some of the Global Advisors team after his presentation

When Daniel left Global Advisors after his presentation, we were in little doubt that Daniel had done everything he could to prepare for the Augrabies race. We were confident he stood every chance of winning the race. But more importantly, so did Daniel – in his quiet, unassuming way.

Pick up most management books or business textbooks and you will find the PDR elements described above. We see them in place in the best businesses and clients. They are expressed in tools such as well articulated strategies, balanced scorecards, project management approaches, management and financial reporting. What is far more difficult than the adoption of a set of tools is the institution of the accompanying processes and culture. Discipline is hard enough for an athlete – successfully inculcating the PDR disciplines in a corporate setting requires strong leadership with a soft touch. It relies as much on the belief and cooperation of the team as a well-thought out approach. Just as hard as it must be for Daniel to ensure he preserves the space around him for a community that reinforces his process, beliefs and spirit, it is unbelievably hard to do the same in a business setting. My personal experience is that successful leadership requires walking a fine line between creating and implementing an optimal PDR approach / culture and creating some space to allow those who fit within that culture to find a place within it. That won’t always work out. You will lose some good people along the way as well as those who don’t belong. It is critical to ensure your team sees the benefits of your chosen PDR approach to ease their journey. It takes time – years – for the PDR approach and culture to develop a rhythm, The role of a core supportive team at a management level or on a project is critical to reinforce the PDR disciplines and build confidence. Daniel believes in “controlling the controllables” – the role of his core team illustrates this.

Daniel Rowland meeting Bruce Fordyce after his Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon win (picture from @brucefordycerun on Twitter)

Daniel Rowland meeting Bruce Fordyce after his Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon win (picture from @brucefordycerun on Twitter)

Daniel’s approach is not unique in its elements. Bruce Fordyce famously kept detailed notebooks of his training and races and was meticulous en-route to nine Comrades victories, the London to Brighton Marathon three years in a row and the 50 mile and 100km world records. He too focused on a holistic approach and kept mood records along with the details of his technical performance.

What I have become convinced about is that just as a management / PDR approach is required to prepare and practice for execution, so the approach must be applied and finely tuned over time. As I watched another amazing Kenyan marathon performance, I tweeted how ridiculously easy the lead runners ran at below 3 minutes to the km. Elana Meyer responded, “Practice makes excellence in action look easy.”

Daniel Rowland, Bruce Fordyce and Elana Meyer are inspirational examples of the power of a well-executed PDR process in sport. The same process exists in a well-executed dance routine, well-written academic career and of course in winning businesses.

What is your approach to running your business? How does it incorporate Planning, Doing and Reviewing? Would your approach support the creation and maintenance of a world-class athlete? Is your PDR approach communicated and understood? Is your culture supportive of the approach? Are you practicing the approach and adapting it for your company? What is the PDR mood?

Daniel is racing the Sahara Race (part of the Four Deserts series) in February 2014. You can follow his progress on the Four Deserts website or on Daniel’s blog.

This photo essay of the Atacama Crossing 2013 by Richard Bray will give you some idea of the challenge posed by multi-stage desert running and Daniel’s accomplishments.

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