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Flight of Fancy

Optimize Blog - December 15, 2010 - 0 comments

For those with an interest in aviation and military matters in general there will no doubt be some emotional response and disappointment this week with the final flight of the British Harrier Jump Jet. The decommissioning of this highly successful aircraft has been brought forward due to the requirement for severe cuts as a result of the UK Government’s strategic defense and security review – a result of cost cutting measures required to stabilize the UK’s finances following the latest recession.
The Harriers will be decommissioned in 2011 to be replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter by the end of the decade. Axing the Harrier is set to save £450m over the next four years and £900m in total, and involve the redeployment of 12,000 jobs in the Harrier force. Overall, the defense review is cutting 5,000 personnel from the RAF – bringing the number serving in the air force down to 33,000 by 2015.
This process piqued our interest for a couple of reasons – one being the requirement to make those tough decisions and trade-offs when determining strategy and secondly we liked the quote from the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards who as head of the armed forces said that “the strategic defense and security review has undoubtedly meant taking difficult decisions”. He went on to add that “All three services and the civil service will lose manpower, and I am painfully aware of the understandable worry caused by the decisions we have made”.
There are so many parallels here with business strategy and indeed running a modern military force has to be run in many ways like a large PLC. As leaders and employees we get attached to the emotional elements of the business and while this may be good in many circumstances to achieve engagement and passion for the business, it can also prove problematic when it comes time to make those tough strategic choices.
Like the Harrier we want to hang on to the past, things that worked – our comfort blankets. If we are going to make those tough choices we need to ensure that everyone in the organization knows what it means and importantly what it means for them personally. Just like the re-deployed Harrier support teams, our people need to know what the strategy choice means for them – what should their next focus be and what is the plan to get them from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
The tough choices have to be made. We need to recognize the emotional ties that people have to the past and we need to recognize the potential response. The key is understanding this range of perspectives and planning accordingly. If people need to be doing different things or doing things differently then ensure that they have a focus, ensure that you provide context (relating the past to the current) and clearly articulating the new vision and purpose.
Just as the UK and other Governments are doing, many organizations need to think about doing things differently as they extract themselves from the recession. In many cases doing what was done in the past, hanging on to the ‘Harriers’ in the business is no longer a viable strategy. Changing attitudes and the way of thinking takes planning and structure, effective communication and importantly, time. If your organization is making strategic changes, don’t leave change to chance and recognize those emotional attachments to the past that will undoubtedly exist. By recognizing and understanding, you can do something about it.
As General Richards says “Achieving this will not be plain sailing and much innovative and radical thinking will be required, including being prepared to shed outmoded or irrelevant attitudes and structures.” Wise words indeed and we need to ensure our own organizations are prepared for the challenge…

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