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 !


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.

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 !!

Evolution in business – or are we Oxen?

8 09 2008

Take a look at the evolution of thinking in business. Back in the 1920’s when management and business was becoming the subject of rigorous study the interface of man and machine was the focus. History has taught us that efficient management can reduce costs and has made operations in business lean and repeatable. We have Fredrick Winslow Taylor to thank for this in terms of ideas and Henry Ford, Arthur Sloan and McDonald’s to thank for the case studies in operational excellence. The essence of this approach to “scientific management “ is/was to take all the skill out of the operation and reduce the process to the simplest possible level of action. Result; people are treated like Oxen. At the time it was considered the epitome of business intelligence and lauded as progressive management. We now know better. The interface of man and man should be the real focus – leader and led.

The problem with repeatable processes, and anything that can be reduced to a documented process, is ultimately it’s also repeatable by someone else. Result: limited competitive advantage, short-term savings for short-term advantage – necessary but not sufficient. In business terms a good try but no

cigar for the winner.

We are now emerging into a new era where the demand on the organisation from talented knowledge workers is greater than at any other time in the history of mankind. Bright people, and let’s at least acknowledge that we are smart enough to hire bright people, ask better questions. They want to be engaged with their employer. There was a time when a job was a necessity. If you were good enough to employ people this was reason enough to gain their loyalty. Commitment was automatic. People were self-motivated. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where you stand, this does not compute now for the majority of knowledge workers or the corporate competents, as some would label them. For this group of talented individuals they want or more accurately demand a better deal. The psychological contract, that unspoken deal we all make with our employer, is getting more complex and more demanding to fulfil. Engaging them, really differentiating the employee value proposition to a level of the individual, is the way to get talent committed to your cause. 1-2-1 leadership is the case for Engagement.

It’s a global phenomenon not just a product of the west or the affluent northern hemisphere. Intelligent people need to know why and how they deliver their input to the greater organization. Whether you are from India, Indiana or Indonesia, talented employees want more than a just a pay packet. They want to be led, inspired to give their best and not just what you pay for. Discretionary effort is a worldwide untapped energy resource – there is no energy shortage, we are just looking in the wrong places.

Compliance is not enough to keep the best and brightest in your organisation. You need a compelling employment value proposition. Talented people have freedom of choice and you need to ensure for the best players in the game, that they chose to be on your team. Oxen you could beat into compliance, or at least reward with a suitable carrot. Taylorism was built on that simple principle. Times change, people change, expectations change, and management is no longer enough. What these demanding times require is exceptional leadership. 3E Leadership captures the essence of what times now demand of us.

There are 3 E’s in ReEnergizing

15 07 2008

In our seminars and our book, ReEnergizing the Corporation, we talk about the need for and nature of surprise in business – discontinuity and disruption. You cannot ignore change. You can only produce or try to reduce it; and we think there is only one real choice. To make change happen you need to re-energize your corporation and our model of leading change, 3E, enables you to Envision, Engage and Execute change.

Change does not have to be seen as negative or problematic, it can and should be a positive process that enables employees to contribute to the success of the organization. So why is it so often seen as a problem to be overcome and not a process to embrace? In a nutshell it’s the way we communicate and lead change that requires a radical re think. Change should always be done with people not in spite of people. To really engage with your workforce requires you actually relax some control and yet paradoxically in doing so you gain more power. It’s not for the faint hearted it takes courage to release the reins of control of the organization.

Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to the era of courageous leadership. It’s time has finally come and without exception the talented people who embrace boldness will flourish in a business environment that demands leaders of exceptional ability and determination. Gone are the days where compliance and control was king, welcome to the exciting era of engagement. When leading change is about navigating the surprises of the business landscape and becoming the surprise shocker of your industry, a new model of leading and delivering change is required. 3E Leadership brings together, people, projects and positive change in a way that makes change happen.

3E Leadership is not management; just as driving to work is not formula one racing. There is a difference in the level of talent required and the level of excitement and challenge it generates. Read on the brave, because in our belief only the courageous can lead change exceptionally well.

Whilst not everyone can be Lewis Hamilton, most people can become talented drivers in the race we know as business today. Let’s not forget, right now speed is critical in business and the decisions made by leaders affect the results of the race. In today’s business climate taking the right decision, taking the team with you and ultimately delivering the results expected of you, is what being a leader is all about. We capture this triad of expectations in 3E Leadership.

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.

Building Trust – creating compelling futures

17 10 2007

Recently I have been working with a major new client, in the telecoms sector, who needed to align their top marketing team. Nothing unusual there, many teams in the normal evolution of business life drift away from their core, get new members or tackle work they shouldn’t. What was evident in this event was that getting back to the core of their purpose, why they existed was going to be a negotiated process. A relatively new and very smart head of marketing wanted to take time out to get her team aligned not only with her thinking about the future, but also with her ambitions for the organization.

This small team was made up of clever, experienced and bold people. Their expertise and passion for the business, and being marketeers, the brand, was evident. What it also produced was a forum for dialogue and at times heated debate about what this team should, could and would deliver to the global business. My role as facilitator and agent provocateur was tested at times, both in challenging assumptions and in finding ways through the maze of possibilities with them.

The important and once again confirming observation for me, was this process really builds commitment. Envisioning is tough at times with people testing, challenging, worrying about, building up, breaking down and finally agreeing a way forward worth working together on. These senior managers left the building to re enter business, energized and committed to their future, one that they built and they planned.

The journey to clarify and build trust was a twisted one with blisters and heart ache along the way, but the view from the finish is clear and bright. Worth all the the effort of getting there and now the team leader is confident of achieving her ambitions for the business and her team.