"Should I replace my station manager?" - a strategic question indeed!
August 6, 2014
"Hi Ian, I like your service of answering difficult questions and hope you can help me out. I am running an outfit here in Singaore and have opened an office in Myanmar. We have appointed a manager there to take care of business and open up leads for us. We have opted to pay him in Singapore-salary equivalent so he is drawing a lot more than the national average. We want to give him all the flexibility of running the business as though it is his, but he is not delivering any results despite giving him clear performance targets. Not only is he not performing but he seems very elusive in his communications to us in Singapore. If we don't ask, he won't respond. And when he responds, it is half-hearted and with scant information. I know it is still early days and he has been in the job only about 4 months. But I am beginning to doubt that he will be able to do perform and as they say, 'hire slowly, fire quickly'. So, Ian, should we replace this station manager?
I feel for you. I understand that finding good help is never easy. Before I use strategic thinking on this situation, I want to put a caveat - I am answering this blindly since I am conjecturing based on the information that you have given me. So while I can make some assumptions, I might say that the end result may be different for you as it is for me. But the process that I use will be valid for your situation as it is for any other person's; so do use it and it will lead you to the right decision. So, without further ado, let's begin! (PS: To know more about the process, read Making a BIG Decision)
As I put myself in your shoes, and apply the 5 Why's, I identify that the intent is to grow the business in Myanmar. Ultimately, whether we keep the person - let's call him Zaw - is irrelevant. Agreed? So with this intent, let's state our success factors...
Since I don't know what business you are in, I am really throwing in these numbers blindly. But I am sure you can change them for the right ones...
First year turnover of US$500K
Combined first two years turnover of US$2million
3 clients within next 3 months; 10 clients till year end
Profit margin of 20% in first year, increasing to 35% in the second year
Replace Zaw with someone with more relevant experience
Train Zaw more
Station someone from Singapore to head up the operations for the first 2 years
Enter into a joint-venture with a local company, putting in equity
The solution must be easy to implement and not take more than 2 months
Cost of solution should not be more than 1.5 times the current budget
Remote management (i.e. from Singapore) is still preferred
First revenue stream to come in within next 3 months
Zaw is adequately trained
Zaw is trainable
The busines model is easy to understand and implement
Our cultures are not clashing
Our marketing efforts are effective
Because I don't know enough of the situation, I couldn't use all the reframing techniques. But the following did yield interesting options (more on the 7 reframing techniques):
#2: Can I use our current clients in Singapore who may be able to introduce us to local companies who might have similar needs?
#4: Can I employ another person to act as a primer for Zaw, thereby creating synergies that are missing?
#5: Can I send some local staff to go to Myanmar on 2 or 3 week stints to make a difference?
#6: Again, is there a local company I can form a JV with?
Balancing options with constraints
When we whittle down the options, the final two are:
Replace Zaw with someone more experienced
Employ another person to act as a primer
Bracketing to manage uncertainty
The option with the least uncertainty is option 2 - employing one more person. This allows us to still train Zaw, while we get someone else to manage the brand. If all goes well, both might work with each other, synergise and produce much more than they do singly. If not, we can still get rid of Zaw when the new person performs - or vice versa. In a sense, we can have an internal competition and the winner can take all!
Patrick, I hope this was helpful for you. Do not rely solely on my conclusions, but on the process. I hope I have demonstrated it sufficiently for you to apply it. And please let me know how this comes to pass at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for other readers, if YOU have a difficult decision to make and need some strategic thinking advice, drop me a like as Patrick did and I will help you out.