Collaboration , not as easy as it seems

24 10 2011

I have just recently run a session on a strategic leadership programme for a collection of government departments. I can’t say which ones but recent changes in funding, threat and resources have meant they really do need to collaborate much more. The programme is breaking ground, in that it’s been set up across departments, the first of its kind. Well that seems a bit obvious to me and to many of readers I assume to share training and development opportunities . However to the UK government, working together is policy; creating the forums for collaboration is, it seems, not.

So what makes good collaborative working at the senior level? Well its more than an edict or policy saying they must. Good collaboration starts with individuals deciding they should, then acting. No amount of policy or direction from the top will break down years of individualization and socialization into strong cultures. What it takes is for individuals to become emotionally engaged in the process, through a shared need, a realisation that there is real benefit in a collaborative approach, and the courage to act on that thought.

We ran a simulation, a game, unfortunately human instinct kicked in and the default settings of competitive behaviour ensued. What was interesting was the debriefing  discussion and how difficult it seems to be  to establish enough trust to collaborate in the first place. Well  ladies and gentlemen servants of the government, we really can’t wait for you to love each other, the economic crisis and the state of threat currently enjoyed by our country from those that wish us harm is too high for you to delay. Collaboration is the future of really effective performance, particularly where special talents are scares and consequences of failure so high.

I really do hope the programme works in the long-term, but currently it is one of the few forums for real inter government agency interaction, it’s a small but vital step in the right direction.


David Ulrich in Barcelona

30 11 2010

I recently attended a short session on Leadership with David Ulrich in Barcelona.  Here’s just a few notes on what I saw and heard from the guru of Hr and Leadership. I was hoping for a few new insights and was not disappointed but at the same time not  overly inspired by what he said. Don’t get me wrong, he said a lot of good, sensible, well presented and pertinent stuff, but nothing new is how I felt leaving the venue ( a spectacular if noisy cable car tower).

What was reconfirmed by listening to David ,and the invited guests comments and responses to his sometimes pointed questions, was that  leadership is all about meaning creation. For him, and for many of his guests, the need for leaders to inspire confidence by being able to help their teams, their staff and employees generally, to understand their roles and the situations they were in at work, was the primary contributor to affluent work places.  He also gave me a blinding insight into the obvious, but sometimes it’s needed for all of us, when he stated HR  only do four things ; talent, teams, build leadership and manage performance.  Given that doing these well are critical to a successful buisness I think the case for HR being a strategic player in the business was made with one flip chart…. maybe thats why he’s a guru; the ability to say something clearly and with insight that others sometime mis or make overly complex.

A good gig for all the right reasons, sun shine, insight and a fantastic view !

Talent and Performance – how strategic does it need to get ?

7 06 2010

Again I am thinking how easy it must be to select the wrong people for strategic roles. Why do I say so? Well it seems to happen so often or more often we allow people to be promoted into strategic roles whilst they are not capable of doing them.  Is this sooooo important? It seems not in many organisations where the rush to fill the gap is more important than the effort put into getting the right person to do the role.  I find this ‘talent sabotage’ process a real issue in many client organizations, either because of pressure from line to fill roles or because of lack of foresight and insight into the damage this does. We are damaging our own companies success by not addressing the issue.

Imagine if you will a sales and marketing dominated company ( say a fmcg or a consumer facing company)  appointing / recently or sometime in the past  – a person of average ability into their sales and marketing head role. So a strategically important role being filled by an average player. Their business success depends on getting more market share, better margins and more awareness of their offer than their competitors but they fill it, for convenience, misplaced loyalty to some long time-server, or just plain inability to select, with an average performer. When their business suffers they look for structural or product or marketplace solutions. Wrong !! Talent in organizations drives performance – right person, right role , right time. Get this wrong and you can spend a fortune on consultants telling you how to change your offer and re-engineer your processes etc, when the problem is the people.

Would you like to undergo a major piece of surgery and be told (or find out later) , that the surgeon is the best they could get, not the best there was? I would like to think that business is the same – minimise the risk of failure – it’s not life or death but the  principle applies all the same.

Talent, graduates and future managers – a word of advice.

15 09 2009

This is the time of year when big employers and last year undergraduates start to pay real attention to the task of hiring.  It seems this year there are more people chasing fewer genuine professional graduate roles than ever before.  What does this mean for both parties; the employer who is seeing larger numbers of applicants all apparently fulfilling their criteria, and for the graduates who are all trying to make themselves stand out from the masses.

Well for employers this is a good time to be in the market for talent. However to cut down disappointment and ensure your talent search really  give you a return,  you must be clear what you are looking for.  Obvious I know, but alas so many employers are using out of date profiles for their talent search, or at best looking for the same sort of people they did last year.  In a market of unlimited choice, such as now, its pays to be really specific in what you are looking for, and getting a system in place to market specifically to that target group and have  an assessment method that REALLY differentiates the good from the average, and the excellent from the mere good.

Here’s the trick, do some analysis of the best performers in your last cohort, and the one or two before that. What makes them distinct from the average performers? D o the same for the more disappointing hires from the same time frame.  Compare the competencies from the distinctly good and those from those that disappoint – there will be a difference and if your smart you can construct on line or mass methodology question sets to find more of the same or better.

Now what about graduates – how do you get noticed and get to the interview?  Step one, realise who has the power here – it’s not you !  When you are applying online to a scheme with an employer and they ask lots of “dumb”  questions that are all contained in your generic cv –  realise that the 2 hours a good online application takes is the first hurdle and if they ask you to outline your biggest strength again,  theres a reason, if they ask you to tell them about your biggest disappointment, theres a reason ( they might even be smart questions in the right format). Failure to pay attention here and writing in ” see cv ” is instant nil point.  On average a screened by human application gets 20 seconds of attention before the next one, online automated , milliseconds, so do as asked is point one.

Now I know, I have a son just gone through this, that the response from many graduates is, this is my final year, I am so busy, there are exams you know, its mad taking so much time over one application – THIS IS TH E REAL WORLD, the point being, if you cannot manage your time,  priorities, and social life to do real justice to the application then do not apply.  The application form is the first test of your conviction , your ability to do as asked.

Secondly if you get to the telephone interview, a common second cut, have some prep done before the call. What do I mean, well this is the MINIMUM:

Research the company web site

Know who their biggest competitors are

Know what their mission statement says, not memorize but understand what is important to them

Know the competencies they are looking for and have some examples ( not as hard as it sounds, most are shown on the careers page, how to apply page or in the more about us section of websites)

Have some note paper to jot things down and have a pen ready!

As a regular consultant with companies recruiting graduates and as a past manager of graduate programmes I am still shocked at how many graduates won’t do the minimum when preparing for interview and the moan about companies not getting back to them quickly.  I think that the good graduates will succeed, and good is well rounded, hard working and those that realise this is a game and the rules are set by the employer – to win you have to play the rules and prepare and train hard to shine.

Good luck this year to all those who are looking for the best, and to the best  – you don’t need luck, just preparation.

Change the way you change

14 03 2009

For the last week I have been working with a large group of internal consultants expanding their understanding of the nature of change management and the role of consultants.  The participants of the programme, which is an accredited programme awarding certificates in consulting fundamentals, were already practitioners of change. However in their public service setting they were mainly concerned with and focused on the optimization of logistics and supply chain matters.  In their evolution they has used a number of sophisticated optimization tools, spread sheet and analytical engine based techniques to deliver improved efficiency and performance.  Unfortunately the success of this approach has made many of them, and their organization’s managers blind-sighted to many of the other approaches and alternative tools available to manage the successful change.

What  was most surprising to me was the lack of emphasis placed on the softer skills of consulting and change,  the relationship building and influencing skills.  The week was revealing in many ways… the depth of confidence and belief in the methods that the participants displayed,  the restricted range of approaches they used,  the organization constraints placed upon them ( by an organization clearly in need of change)  and the lack of engagement with the client that many of them expressed. It seemed the clients needs were secondary to getting work done.

As we progressed through the module of study and education,  there were many occasions where the sound of pennies dropping was akin to standing next to a slot machine paying out the  jackpot !

Relationships and influence are everything in change management ! No tool, regardless of provenance or power will work where there is no trust and credibility.  People chose to change, people chose to follow, people chose who to trust and these choices  are all based on relationship and influencing skills.

So what is my point in this post? If you work in change leadership, as an internal consultant or manager of projects then think about what you concentrate on when leading change, if its tools and processes then you need to change the way you change.  Influence is everything – any system can be made effective if the people who use it want it to work well. You role in leading change is creating the conditions for people to want to do a great job and get great outcomes, without influence you are playing the game with the dice loaded against you.

Implementing change

9 02 2009


Implementation is not hard, its just about consistency and stamina. If you have applied the 3E approach and have clarity of vision, shared and understood in terms of a concrete challenge, and you have the right people involved and committed to action then implementation is a grind but straight forward. The role of the leaders in implementation is one of a provider of resources and a information. Monitoring of the right measures is crucial as is communication of that to the right people in the right way. Having feedback on performance is crucial to maintaining momentum, and energy. Why do you think running machines with monitors are so popular and stop watch lap times so motivating for runners? Human’s need to know how we are doing, and that is one role of the  leader in execution of change – scores on the doors for people.

All implementation will hit problems. There is not a battle plan in the world that will survive contact with the enemy. In change leadership the same applies in terms of implementation, just add people to make it obsolete. However, having a plan to start with is important. It’s the box to think outside of, it’s the route to deviate from, and it’s the budget to exceed or beat. No plan is the solution, just part of the process.

Leaders need to be tenacious, resilient and at the same time humble enough to admit when things are tough. Stick with it and tell people how they are doing,  implementing change in a nut shell.

Re Organize, Re Structure, Re Engineer – rethink please !

15 01 2009

No sector is seems is not effected by the current economic downturn, recession or crisis – you choose the term you dislike most.  However the rush to reduce, re-size and remodel is to me a symptom of panic and pressure to act rather than the product of rational thought and considered action. Big  corporate have the pressure of the shareholder to think about so need to make a profit at all costs – what is not so obvious to some is that their shareholder are in many cases their employees pension funds so meeting one criteria for success fails another.

What should we do as a alternative ? because we all know criticism is easy but generating alternatives is not.  Well I don’t know many organizations that hire dumb people out of choice – even the White House has got that one now .  Given the scale of the challenge, given the limited off the shelf options for a business in recession, why not take some risks – more risk with the people you have ‘s  ideas.

Take the scenario of a small business who employee 40- 50 people in distribution and logistics.  When there is less work and costs of employment are constant the option off the shelf is to reduce the staff. Lower staff number to match the reduction in work available and match the reduced cost base.  Clear and logical and expected from the management.  So lets say 10 people loose their jobs to meet the downturn, harsh but fair.  Or is it ! What would happen if the same 40 – 50 people where given the task of income generation, cost reduction, business remodeling, sales generation,  business marketing, asset reuse, space leasing, alternative income raising and growth rather than death by a thousand cuts.  I think they might as a collective with the right leadership generate ideas and plans and product and ways of using their existing asset that the management , because of their training, would not see in a million years.

Is this the rant of a delusional mind  – possibly but if you look for them ( and I do) there are examples of businesses doing remarkable things ( from the ideas of their workforce) when the business is under pressure.  If you want to read about some incredible employee ideas for success read Maverick, by Ricardo Semler.  You will see quite quickly that  re organizing, re structuring, re engineering are the reactions of an anorexic mind – feed it with ideas from your people and grow healthy as an organization.