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February 15, 2007Making Connections - Issue 16, Feb 2007
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The Link - Second Issue

Welcome to the second issue of The Link!

In this issue we will explore some of the leadership and organizational issues in the public and private sector in Calgary. You will note the number of similar issues and the spirit with which people are tackling them.

Interview with Alan Markin
Chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd

At the beginning of the interview , Alan Markin explained that he and his partner took over Canadian Natural Resources seven and a half years ago with the intent to rejuvenate it. He attributes their company's exceptional success to four factors. First, their clear focus on their mission statement

"to develop people who work together, for the value of the shareholders, with fun and integrity".

The mission statement is the basis of his twice yearly meetings with all 200 office employees and 60 field workers. "I focus on helping them discover their sense of direction and values" he states. As employees mature and develop confidence in the company's values, he spends less time in interviews with them. It takes 3 - 6 months 'education time' to understand that making errors and hard headed debate are norms to be trusted. Second, they hire 'good' people. "Serendipity played a major role in our success. The market was full of top people who had lost jobs during 'downsizing'. Hiring them was our first step to success" he noted. Third, they give 100% effort to their projects and work without partnerships. This allows them to ensure quality work. Finally, they keep their costs low.

"They have no CEO but rather a CEO 'office' of some 6-7 people depending upon the project. "

All these factors work within a unique company culture. They have no CEO but rather a CEO 'office' of some 6-7 people depending upon the project. The company stays deliberately 'flat'. The decision making norm is one of consensus. They spend considerable time in debate and discussion which Markin believes also tends to eliminate office politics and ego problems.

His own role is unique. He has the title of chairman of the board, but sees himself associated with the CEO office, takes a strong hand in personnel and field issues. He believes that his job is to adhere to company principles and to teach them.

He summarised some of the trends which he sees in successful companies: a 'real' team at the top, a strong sense of accountability, common personal values and 'touching the steel'. "Did I mention 'touch the steel'? he queried. Markin personally sees 80% of their acquisitions in the field. "You have to be there, you have to touch the steel", he contends.

University of Calgary
Need for Strategic Direction

Over a year ago the President's Advisory Group of the University of Calgary acknowledged the need for a strategic direction to take the university through economic restraint of the current years. Working with a Calgary based consulting group, they adopted a four phase model which solicits input from the faculties and divisions and which in the final analysis identifies desired alternatives.

In an interview with Professor Robert Woodrow of the Co-ordinating Task Force, he outlined the four phases of the model. The first phase which is nearing completion has several aspects. First it approaches the task of vision forming. Like most organizations in these times, the vision is being redefined or reformulated. Second, facts are gathered from other universities nationally and internationally. Third, the potential future environment is considered and finally, desired alternatives are identified for the organization. In the second phase, the first key steps of the change are identified and budget assessed and allotted for the tasks. Detailed design of one or more of the key first steps is the third phase. In the fourth, implementation of the detailed design is undertaken.

"At this point, the coordinating task force is presenting five 'pure' alternatives based on their input."

Throughout the entire process, focus groups are used to shape the desired alternatives. At this point, the coordinating task force is presenting five 'pure' alternatives based on their input. That is, they are imagining a university whose sole purpose is research or student learning or community service or all of the key themes or the current federation of faculties. With each 'vision' in mind, they are working through the implications for budget, hiring personnel, etc. To agree on an alternative, eighty percent of employees have to 'buy in'.

Prof. Woodrow talked about the enthusiasm the focus groups are generating across campus. In particular people are pleased with the range of information and the factual aspect of the planning. There is hope that this process will actually produce a strategic direction for the University of Calgary and its new CEO, President T. White.

It was a pleasure to be a part of the process of the Coordinating Task Force on two different occasions. I gave a presentation on the changes in Australian universities.

Page last updated July 30, 2010
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