Good morning – and welcome to time travel. Jump aboard the TAB Tardis and travel back in time with me. It’s August 2016 and I have just introduced a new member to one of the TAB York boards…
Ed: So here’s your first chance, Theresa. Outline your problem and let’s see what advice the other members can offer
Theresa: Here’s my problem. I’ve just been made CEO of this big company – GB plc it’s called, you might have heard of it. The shareholders have made a decision: I don’t agree with it but I have to implement it. Or I’m supposed to. That’s what the last CEO promised but he left in a huff. The problem is the board of directors are almost certainly going to be against the decision as well.
Lee: OK, Theresa. Let’s try and quantify the size of the problem. How many shareholders?
Theresa: 17.4 million
David: And how many directors?
David: Wow. That’s a big board of directors.
Theresa: I do have this thing called a ‘cabinet.’ Supposed to make executive decisions.
Lee: Did you appoint this ‘cabinet?’
David: Great – so they’re all going to support you?
Theresa: No. 50% of them disagree with me.
Ed: Any more questions, chaps?
Lee: Last one; what’s the timeframe? How long do you have to sort it out? Four weeks? Six weeks?
Theresa: I’m thinking of three years
David: Three years? Well, with respect, Theresa, that’s madness. You can’t take three years to make a decision. No-one in business can take three years to make a decision. I mean, your company is going to be overtaken by events. Ed here is always writing about the pace of change. Taking three years to make a decision would be … well, I can’t even put it into words
Ed: Lee? You’re always incisive on this sort of thing
Lee: Well, one thing’s obvious. And you have to accept it, Theresa. You simply cannot please everyone. If you try and do that then you’ll get nowhere. If there’s one thing everyone round this table has learned it’s that the job of a leader is to lead. And sometimes that means unpopular decisions.
David: Lee’s right. And you have to establish your red lines. Lines you simply cannot cross. And you have to tell the truth. Like Lee says, you’re going to be unpopular but if you tell the truth you will at least be respected. Try and please everyone and it really will take three years… (general laughter around the TAB table at the ludicrous thought of three years)
I suspect the history books will not be kind to Theresa May. Neither will the management theory books. And neither were Wednesday morning’s newspaper headlines as I made a start on this week’s post…
We’re in crisis admits May, as she seeks Brexit delay
Cabinet at war as May begs for Brextra time
And, most damningly the Mail, a paper which has recently swung round to supporting May’s deal, called it 1,000 Wasted Days
Yes, as I write it is exactly 1,000 days since the UK voted to leave the EU and I doubt that anyone would claim that we have made progress. It is simply inconceivable that a business could waste 1,000 days. We all know what the result would be after just 100 days of inaction – ‘It’s March 20th, love. A year today that the receivers walked in.’
I may not wholly agree with Tony Soprano’s wisdom – ‘more is lost by indecision than a wrong decision’ – but what the current situation illustrates is that you cannot kick the can down the road indefinitely.
Getting EUsed to Making Decisions
We are all familiar with the old maxim that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. Apparently new research from the University of London contradicts that: the scientists there say that it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. Whether it is 21 days or 66 days or even a little longer, I think we can all agree that if you have consistently done something for 1,000 days then it isn’t just a habit, it is part of your DNA.
Leaders simply cannot delay decisions. Yes, certain things in business take a long time. From the day it was first mooted that I might take over TAB UK to the day Mags and I completed the deal probably took as long as Brexit has currently taken. But from day one, we knew what we wanted to achieve. Yes, progress was sometimes slow – sometimes it was agonisingly slow – but we always knew what we were trying to do and every decision we took was with that one goal in mind.
Everyone who reads this blog knows that I voted to Remain in the EU. I still think that was the correct decision. But I believe in democracy and I accepted the outcome. What I don’t think anyone in the UK – outside Parliament – can accept is that 1,000 days after the vote we have not the slightest idea how it will turn out, or what we are trying to achieve.
But, as always, there is a lesson to be learned. And that is – as ‘David’ and ‘Lee’ pointed out – decisions have to be taken. And if you’re reading the blog then the chances are that you have to make them. The decision you make may, in the short term, make you unpopular. You may lose some support, you may face criticism.
But as our Prime Minister shows us, it is nothing to the support you will lose and the level of unpopularity you will experience if your only ambition is to kick the can endlessly down the road.
A New TAB Member leaves TAB EUork
Meanwhile, back in York…
Theresa: So we have made a firm commitment that the latest extension my company is seeking will not go beyond June 30th at which point the deal will be done
David: Which deal?
Theresa: Well, I’m not sure. Everyone is still voting against my deal
Lee: And these people you want to do the deal with – what do they say?
Theresa: They say I can only have until May 23rd
David: So you still don’t know what you want? Or when you can achieve it? And that’s taken the best part of three years?
Lee: Well, at least you’ll do the decent thing and accept responsibility. That’s what real leaders do
Theresa: Are you mad? I’ve just made a speech saying it’s everyone’s fault but mine. Don’t you people know anything about running a company?
Ed Reid – MD of TAB UK
Read more of Ed’s Blogs here: