Rome awaits – Jonas and Mark speaking on Innovation

24 01 2012

In February Mark and Jonas are working with a large group of  senior managers from a  global building materials company on innovation. It’s not what you make that matters but the way and ways of making both the product and business. We expect to challenge their thinking in terms of how to do business better and different in a market that is massively affected by an economic cycle or downturn. They are doing the right thing, change themselves before the competition do or the market demands it.

It’s better to change on the upwards slope of the curve or somewhere near the apex rather than in the tail spin of decline. We expect to push them to think differently and take control of their future in the industry. Should be fun !!



Its not about them it’s about us !

14 07 2010

A not so blinding insight came to me the other evening, helped to some degree by a Cohiba and a Talisker…( a good creative mix if ever there was one).  Many of the change initiatives that large organisations undertake they do so to change them… the people they have employed. The top management somehow plan and vision and strategise the future state they want to achieve and forget it’s all about us... a combined effort … not about getting them to do things differently. When we start to think about our organisation and our company and our strategy then there is not us and  them, just us.

What stops senior management using the people they have to change the business for the better?  In my experience its a number of things:

fear of losing control

not having a method to involve others efffectively

underestimation of the ability of their own people

Taking each in turn let look at what can be done.

Power is ultimately about getting people to do things. If you can give away the control to others but have them do things in the direction you wish, isn’t that just a different kind of power.  Some form of engagement process would do this, set the challenge and agenda for change but have people in the organisation who work there every day, do the planning and idea generation for what can be improved. The fear that top management have is that it might not work. Be brave, take the risk and see what your employees are capable of, given the chance.

Engagement is a great idea that fails to get many managers excited because they don’t really know how. It ok if you have a small team to get involved, but what happens if you are the board member with a team or division with 250 people – is engagement really easy at this level. Well try to think of it as a community activity and not a process for business. Is it possible to get over 250 people involved in something that they want to see happen in a community – open source software regularly does this with thousands, getting  a village fete up an running can involve scores of people, sports event hundreds of competitors, so yes it is. We use transformation workshops, large as you like, to get people engaged with structure – open space is another technique.  Engagement is something people give you , you need to give them a process to make it easy to get involved.

Finally, are they up to it – does your staff care?  Well ask them to find ways to make money and save costs and cut jobs and they might not be. Ask them to take some control and responsibility for their future and growth of the business and I think you will find they can be creative, focused, business like and innovative in finding ways to be different and better.

Remember its not about you – the senior team and them the employees, it’s all about US

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.

T maps in practice

15 01 2010

Just some more thoughts on the positives of using T maps, whilst they are in the front of my mind. I have recently used them with two senior groups looking at strategy for a large international organistion. In both cases the time it takes to create one, even with a willing and able group, was under estimated. I think that the real value comes from the necessary diallogue and explanations, which means that the concensus is high in the group. However, that means the mapping takes longer.

For a senior team think about 2 x 2 day workshops, one to get the draft and directions right, and a second one a few week a later to get the gain on the picture sharpened up, more dates, more cost, more names, more interdependencies mapped out.

A great tool which people get … no selling really needed as the output clarifies complexity better than most change management tools or techniques.

The paradox of power – giving leadership away

24 11 2009

Today I have been thinking about how leaders get use power – both explicitly and also unwittingly – to get results they didn’t want.  Let me explain, one of the groups I have been working with is a pharma company talent pool. In exploring leadership with then they shared the company history and the fact that this is a family owned business where the family head is still the hands on leader of the firm. However, the Hr head says that the purpose of the workshops is to devolve leadership power into the lower levels of the organisation. So the will from the top is for others to do more leadership  and take initiative.  What also emerged in the discussion was that the family head longed to be challenged more by his team but that they rarely did so. This is not in any way  unique to this organisation, a similar issue exists in a couple  of my other clients organisations.

So how has this disconnect happened? The leadership talent are looking and shying away from the family head, who really wants to be challenged and give leadership away, but every time they discuss the idea of challenging, revert to their own  need to have strong leadership from the top. The real paradox is that real leadership comes from creating the empowering conditions that allows people to challenge, to feel comfortable in dissent, to take on responsibility and to step into the space that letting go creates.

Good intentions can get derailed by history and habits.  If this family head, a capable entrepreneurial leader, really wants to grow his leaders, he need to let them struggle with creating direction, in the absence of it from him. Jumping in too soon to solve the issues creates some level of dependency and challenging the saviour is not going to happen. Where strategies and directions have always come from the man on the mountain, there is little incentive to learn to climb – these leaders need to start to take actions themselves and discover that leadership comes with a responsibility to set agenda not just follow them and that at times that is uncomfortable.

Leadership is where you find it

6 05 2009

I have a number of personal contacts who are teachers and who happen to work in good schools here in the UK.  What do I mean by good schools… not my definition but that of the inspectors who have rated at least two of them ” outstanding” in terms of the education they provide.  What is interesting to me is that in both of these schools the teachers I know and it seems their peers find the leadership of the head master appallingly bad.  In one where I have much more knowledge,  the heads actions would not be tolerated in any other organization.  Poor work ethic,  poor technical skills in their subject,  atrocious man management,  blame culture and not backing staff against parents or the local authority in times of  disagreement.  So what is happening?  In these two examples both schools in terms of performance of their task are really outstanding against an external standard and the experience of the kids.

My belief is in areas of vocation, rather than jobs,  people rise to the challenge of doing good work regardless of the head of the organisation.  More so than in a commercial organisation the drive and determination of the staff makes great things happen. The larger good, the clear worthwhile goal , the uniting interest , serves to somehow replace the leadership placed by authority.  A good result can be gained by the leadership emerging from a second, third level line of the organisation.  In these institutions people lead themselves where there is a vacuum of real direction and support – in some instances in spite of objections and interference from above.

So what can we learn from this? Well  shared goals and uniting beliefs, which are hallmarks of a vocation, seem to have more drive than any vision or mission from a leader who you don’t believe adds any value. Can we as managers of people get more shared understanding and more of a core belief in what we are doing? I think we can.

What is really sad is how good could these schools be if the head teachers were good? that is such a waste !!

Relationship mapping – know who you know

23 03 2009

In these days of cyber networks its easy to think we are really well connected, have contacts,  know people and are linked in.  Well relationships are critical to  leadership and even more so when taking others on a change journey… so why not pay a little more attention to the relationship we have.  Making explicit what is implicit is  a starting point.  As an exercise for individuals relationship mapping is a great way to make you think about who you know, and what they know and how they influence your success.

See the text below for a way of mapping what is, what should be and how to get from one to the other… no man is an island, or even a small nationalistic country – co operation, interdependence and plain old scratching each others back is back in fashion… not that it was ever really out.

If you don’t know who you know, how can you manage relationships to ensure you are successful in leading change? We all have circles of influence – some formal given by position and rank, and many more informal given by history, shared interests, debts, favors and recommendations. If you want to really make an impact in change leadership you should know who to bring into your camp who may not be there, and how to influence the ones who already are.

Take a large blank canvas; a flip chart pad is idea, but the back of a poster or a large format paper. A3 is probably the smallest which will work well.

Draw a circle in the centre with your name or initials in the centre. Then start to map the surrounding space with the names, or if you only know the position/title of the people who are in your network currently. Follow these guiding rules:

The most frequent meetings/ interactions should be closer to your circle.

Importance of the relationship is shown by size of circle

Influence you have is show by the size of the arrow going from you them

Influence they have over you is show by the arrow going from them to you.

You will finally after some thought have a diagram like this below representing the current state of you network.sue-circles-of-influence-one

The next step we encourage people we work with to take is to then think about the distance, should any be nearer, denoting more frequent interaction? Should any be further away? Should there be anyone on this map that is not currently? Are the arrows showing the relationships and influence that you need to be successful? Who should you be more influential with in this network? It’s also useful to ask if there are people in the network that should not be there for this project, but demand attention regardless.

We then ask them to update or redraw the map – showing the network that they should have as a change leader.


The second map shows the change in line strength denoting reducing or increasing influence, and also some new contacts to make, HR, the Head of Logistics, Accounts and Amanda. The frequency of the interaction between Sue and some of the contacts in the network have also changed in this example as the importance of their relationships change in the light of leading change.

The next step is deciding what action to take in each case to move from diagram one, to diagram two.