Quality Thinking Quality Results

Forward Consulting is led by Allan Ward

In December 1984, I departed the summer beaches of Perth, Western Australia, for three months upon the cold expanse of the Antarctic Ocean. Aboard three Japanese ships and one Russian ship, myself and eleven other international scientists prepared to play our part in a ten-year survey of the Antarctic minke whale population. Back in Cambridge, England, my colleagues and I at the Sea Mammal Research Unit had designed a new population survey technique for minke whales, and I had been tasked with leading its implementation. As the survey began, though, I sailed into a baptism of fire. I discovered that I had to deal both with administration and with people, and I hadn’t much skill with either—after all, I was a scientist. Before this, the only leadership position I’d ever held was vice-captain of my school’s rugby team! 

I led the implementation of our survey technique on another two Antarctic voyages, and I began to value good planning, administration, problem solving, training, and motivation like I never had before; I began to value the skills that could lead a multilingual, multinational team. However, as a scientist, I’d never heard of management books, and developing the leadership and management capacity of a research scientist was extremely rare. So, I found myself fumbling along, while the results of our survey bore global significance in determining the fate of the ban on commercial whaling.

Then, in 1992, I joined the pharmaceutical industry, and I was exposed to some of the best training in the world—from medicine and sales to productivity and teamwork. I learned so much, rising rapidly to middle management. However, I found that much of the leadership and management training was far too complicated. Often, I couldn’t see how to apply it to everyday situations. I wanted practical. I wanted simple. I wanted tools that helped me achieve my objectives. And I think most of us do!

So, in 2003, I started my current consultancy business with this mantra: “Simplify the complex”. I set about compiling a set of leadership and management tools that were both easy to understand and apply, and essential to the running of any successful organisation, department, or team. Every month, my business partner and I would set aside a whole day to deconstruct a common business model or approach, capturing its essence and establishing the most effective way to apply it. We were often able to strip out jargon, reduce the number of steps, or even combine one model with another. Then, over the next fifteen years, we helped many national and international organisations achieve greater success.

I found this quote from Virgin Airlines’ founder Richard Branson particularly interesting: “Our aim in everything we do should be to simplify the complex: complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to keep things simple.” 

Let’s not be fools!

Since 2014, I have taught my deliberately simplified tools in conservation. The recipients of the training range from MBA-qualified CEOs to unschooled, voluntary, community-conservancy board members; and a conservation director recently described the application of this approach as “transformational”.

Guy Pfeffermann, former chief economist at the International Finance Corporation and founder of Management Skills for Wildlife Conservation and the Global Business School Network comments that: 

“The quality of leadership and of day-to-day management is a powerful driver of social and economic progress. While this is generally recognized in the for-profit world, non- profit organizations and their funders have been paying much less attention to its critical role. Most funding to wildlife conservation organizations goes to “hardware” such as anti-poaching equipment and training, and to environmental and life sciences. Hardly any funding goes to enhance local leadership and management capacities, and yet modest efforts to build such capacity can improve conservation as well as community development outcomes significantly.”

Mike Harrison, former CEO of Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya, says

A lot of training in the conservation field is centred around conservation or livelihoods technical training, but what about generic personal skills for the effective management of people, partnerships, or resources? This is just as important for conservancy managers and boards if we are to see the conservancies operating to the best of their ability.”

Looking back, I wish I had the skills I now teach during that first Antarctic expedition! I would have had less stress, more enjoyment, and most importantly, higher productivity. This is my desire for you!

Here are a few of our many successes:

Communication skills, management abilities, creative thinking to challenges they face, confidence, and strategic thinking had all been transformed. CEO, Northern Rangelands Trust

“I have learned that dialogue changes everything. Before LAMP training, I would use my authority to issue directives–especially in cases of cattle theft. Now, when cattle are stolen we go into homesteads and ask for advice, making it clear that we are there to help and not to punish. This approach has worked so well for our location and conservancy and I can now say that cases of cattle theft have greatly reduced.” Chief, Community Conservancy.

“Thanks…your hugely practical and applied methodology offered under LAMP is of real value and all the team are energised by it.” CEO, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

“When I first came to the training I was very scared. I’d never stood in front of people. I didn’t’ think I could do this job, even when I was selected by my community – I told them no! What I am used to is housework and going to the market. I am so happy with the LAMP training. Now I know how to lead. So stop keeping us women behind, look what we can do. We have become MPs, Governors,. Catherine is here, she was afraid but now she can do something important.” Finance Chair, Community Conservancy.


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