Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting Back Into Management

As a company we went away on a strategic breakaway a few months back and near the end there was a moment of absolute celebration from Mike our CEO when he declared:

“Yes, I finally have Brad in the Organigram”.

I had just been appointed Mobile Transactions Zambia Chief Sales Officer, reporting to Mike as CEO, and with four Sales Vice Presidents reporting to me.

So that has got me to put pen to paper and do my second blog.

I had managed for as long as possible, the last two hugely enjoyable years, to be the business lone ranger: Heading off to new markets and developing new products and channels. While at times effective, equally at times disruptive, times were a changing and my wheeler dealer days in Mobile Transactions were fading fast.

The business has evolved and more than ever what we needed was: focus, discipline and most important: implementation and performance results, basically good management of people and process.

The brief was clear: One market (Zambia), four products (Money Transfers, Vouchers, Micro Finance payments and our new Mobi Ordering and Supplier Payments module (now this is a cool product)) and make it sing.

Going Back to my Roots

It was time to shake off the cob webs and think back to the days when I was a Commercial Director of an MNO and the Managing Director for Zambia of an International Paint brand.

The stresses of a startup are such that Keith our COO who joined us four months ago from an International bank Skyped the following to me the other day when we were reminiscing about corporate days:

[1/20/2011 5:38:02 PM] Keith Davies: It seems like such a long time ago that I've almost forgotten, but that is how good businesses are run. The budget is a function of the strategy and then the people are managed to the budget which in turn should ensure that the strategy is executed. So it is absolutely key that we actually operationalize this budget.

Managing People

One of the biggest challenges in a role like this is managing people.

I hope this comes out right but growing up in Africa and going to boarding school in South Africa from 7 years old I have been bought up in a hierarchical structure with pecking orders and when it is your turn at the top of the pile, well make hey while the sun shines. Given this background and a fair whack of confidence I have never been shy stepping forward in almost any situation. Being in charge and being both accountable and driving things forward is probably something I would embrace rather than pass over.

In most of my past management experience it was on the whole relatively autocratic – both in terms of how I was managed and how I managed my teams. Ten years ago that is how businesses where run here, middle management development was only just starting to be taken seriously, building strategic input from the ground up unheard of, jobs were extremely scarce and if you were a middle manager and were lucky enough to have one you settled in, did not rock the boat and mostly did what you were tasked with. It was a very confining management environment and one of the main reasons I went off to start my own business with my brother.

Fast forward to 1st January this year and a quick assessment of the VP’s I was being tasked with managing. While no one individual is the same there were certainly some common traits:

· Super bright and capable

· Bullet proof in their inexperience

· Great qualifications

· Very worldly, well travelled and well versed in life

· Humble, good stock

· Really focused on learning and personal development

In addition, lots of opportunity, be it jobs in China, offers of acceptance for MBA’s from the very best International Business Schools etc, certainly attractive options on the table for them, and rightfully so given their caliber and attitudes.

Certainly the take it or leave it, or I am in charge approach would have ensured a quick mutiny and departure of absolutely critical skills.

This had to be countered by the reality that the business was not just strategic but also implementation. The implementation part takes rolling down your sleeves and putting your nose deep into the muck, dive further and just do stuff.

The Bigger Picture

Under Mike’s leadership the Chief Officers were tasked with creating a disciplined and structured business, hell even learning how to say no to all the opportunities and distractions out there.

In addition a lot of work went into aligning strategic focus and getting buy-in and then building budgets and process and plans.

From a sales perspective the key drivers were to generate revenues above budget, establish an effective sales pipeline, create manageable KPI’s and do not lose our skilled resources.

The Approach Taken

Our plan to retain key skilled staff has been to focus on how inspirational Mobile Transactions is

· We are not selling paint, we are a sexy industry

· We aim to be an inspirational African success story. We are tired of stories of Africa being Hollywood’s Blood Diamonds, Last King of Scotland and Hotel Rwanda. African entrepreneurs need role models and Mobile Transactions aspires to be.

Creates an environment where their work inspires them.

· Each VP has ownership and management of their department, products and channel at a Profit and Loss basis

Surround the team with quality people

· As a peer group they are working as a talented group

· They have direct access to Senior Officers who have a wide variety of Corporate and Self Made experience and skills

· Access to advisory Board Members to ensure they are exposed to best practice

· Tasked with up skilling or recruiting top staff reporting to them

Personal growth and development

· Opportunity to manage at a P & L basis

· Monthly reports for Board Submission

· Structured and professional reporting to CSO

· Management of a Key Strategic Project for each resource

· Use MTZ to grow personal network, we encourage open and transparent networking, and this space attracts interest

Open and transparent remuneration

· Everyone works for below market rates, not a great starting point

· We are all geared to closing an investment

· Incentives are only on the table with profitability above budget

· Share options are on the table with a proven track record

What the business needs

· Stuff just needs to get done

· Focus, discipline, implementation

· Best lessons are getting hand dirty and walking the floor

· But, at the same time some of the best and critical successes have come from direct strategic intervention from the VP’s. The introduction of internal Service Level Agreements and also the Effective, Efficient and then Expand model have all come and been driven to working policy by the group

Delegation is great but with clarity and accountability

· Whether ignorance is bliss or not, the worst thing young managers should face is delegation without very clear strategic direction and total clarity of what is expected and required. With focus and feedback, empowerment with zeal is a winner

So how are we doing?

You can never count your chickens before they hatch but the team is making good progress.

· Following on from 1,000% growth last year and budgeted growth of400% this year, measured against this we are 30% above budget on a GP basis YTD

· Sales strategies have been aligned with implementation plans by product

· KPI’s have been agreed and signed off

· Sales dashboard has been actioned

· Sales Pipeline is a breathing work in progress

· Sales Service Level agreements for all internal departments have been signed off

· Weekly sales meeting by VP with IT, accounts, customer care have been institutionalized

· Structured weekly sales meetings are in place

· VP’s are ensuring they walk the floor

· VP’s are managing P&L

What Next

Certainly it has been a productive start to the year and we look forward to proving this team has the ability to quote the mantra: Become effective, then efficient and then expand, and most of all, all the original team remains on board for now.

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