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.

Dream, Dialogue and Deliver – the process of change

1 03 2009

We seem to  strive to find the perfect process for change and the means of getting people involved in change in our organizations.  I am not convinced there is a perfect formula, a magic bullet or a perfect recipe.  However the human condition seems to demand some involvement and some discretion in all elements of life we participate in.  Why would committing to change be any different?

In the 6o’s Martin Luther Kings  raised the masses ideals with his “I have a dream” speech. Obama is doing the same now, raising hope when times are tough, sharing a dream for a strong and influential America, whilst at the same time encouraging people to take responsibility for the change – a dialogue of commitments.

Without a dream to aspire to you cannot inspire others to do something.  Delivery is about shared perspiring – doing something that is worth doing, and making the effort to do it well.

The key it seems to us is the ability to create a dream, Visioning, that is credible and aspirational at the same time.  That dream demands a dialogue with the congregation, the staff, the participants, those affected by its realisation, this we call Engagement.  Executing is the  process of delivery, getting things done through others and making sure they have the means, the information, the resources, the energy to do so.

There are not magic wands in change, but there are some approaches that work if used with skill and consideration for the context.  As they say en France Bon Courage !!

Thinking outside the box

8 09 2008

How often have we heard the cliche ” we need to do some thinking outside of the box” when we are being “inspired” by our well meaning bosses – mistaking management jingoism for leadership.

In order to risk being creative we need two things,  confidence in our position to be radical, innovative and challenging, and also some structure to deviate from – pure blue sky thinking is really just that, dreaming, nightmare stuff. Companies need to have some idea of the context of their industry first, the position they are in now – before they start to T.O.T.B   Leaders don’t ignore where we are now – extolling only a vision, without reference to where we are now. Context is important – it shapes our starting point, it helps place us on the map in the first place, so we can navigate to somewhere else. In order to think outside the box we need two things – a box in the first place, and the space and confidence to think !!

Leading across Cultures

28 01 2008

Part of the work we do is helping teams at the more senior end of the organization work well together. An issue we often come across, and it’s not rare, is where the team is made up of multiple nationalities and cultures. What is interesting to us is how much they attribute poor team performance to this factor, rather than their own team working or leadership ability. We find that of course culture is an issue – people from Finland and Sweden for example do have a different outlook to life and work, just the same as French and English have a different attitude to cuisine – but it’s only another variable not an excuse for neglecting the core of leadership.

Whether you are Chinese, Croatian or Chilean there are fundamentals that you expect from your leaders. Envisioning – to allow you a picture of the future worth working for, Engagement – involvement in meaningful work, and Execution – enabling the process of success.