Outstanding organisations skip sheep dip, wetsuit techniques: Strong

Presenting his own 'scientific theories' on the business realities of today, former Qantas Airways CEO James Strong espoused the failings of "magic bullets" such as the sheep dipping technique and the wet suit factor, which can make the difference between an outstanding organisation and an ordinary one.

In such a super competitive and complex business environment, Strong emphasised the need for reality to rein in the enterprise and to apply leadership without hype. To really make change occur within an organisation, he said, avoid magic bullet techniques such as 'sheep dipping'.

"This is when outside consultants are bought in to transform an organisation simply by staff undertaking a course; it is no surprise staff become cynical," he said.

"There are so many books on how to be a leader that it has become a cult concept; there is no magic bullet; it takes time and commitment."

Strong likened so-called inspirational speakers -- who are expected to affect change within an organisation -- as the "wetsuit factor", because it was like urinating in a wetsuit.

"Firstly the speaker gets a warm and lovely feeling and secondly, no one [else] is aware what is going on and are simply following," he said.

"Avoid preaching to staff and always do what you say; if you tell an employee they are important, then treat them that way."

In the wake of the dotcom boom and hyped business cycles, Strong called for a return to business planning based on fundamental values, because "you cannot create something from nothing".

"If you try to reduce costs by continually attacking resources and cutting staff training, the impact is negative," he said.

"Don't just preach to staff, think about the impact it has on them or you will get the rolling eyeball affect: that's when a new chief executive walks in talking about how things are going to change when everyone has heard it all before, but it doesn't happen."

Delivering a keynote address at the NEC business solutions i4U conference yesterday, Strong shared some of his experiences at Qantas including his belief that mission statements aren't always central to motivation.

He recalled a Qantas employee talking about how much he loved mission statements and in the past the airline handed them to staff on a credit card-sized piece of paper to carry around with them.

"I asked him what the mission statement said, but he couldn't remember. When you get up in the morning, have a shave and look in the mirror, a mission statement is not going to fire you up for the next 16 hours," he said.

"Outstanding organisations are characterised by the performance of their people, employees who feel valued and feel they can make a contribution."

Sandra Rossi is attending the conference as a guest of NEC.

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