Saturday, 25 June 2011

A response to Colin Millar (rantingscot) and his blog on the 'leadager' hybrid

Colin Millar, a fellow CMI ambassador and a blogger of many interesting pices such as this one ( which seemed worthy of a response, following..

I spent the other evening with Rear Admiral Chris Parry (and many other equally tall, imposing and impressive ex-military commanders…. I felt short, ugly, unfit and inadequate for much of the evening, though I'm over it now) looking at geo-political strategy- I have the migraine to prove it – and he was fairly scathing on the subject that much of what passes for ‘strategy’ or ‘strategic leadership’ among current organisational management is really tactics and stewardship, and that many so-called strategies are really initiatives or programmes. I concur with many of Colin's comments about the changing needs of employees....Especially the comments on the need for an almost spiritual engagement between colleagues.
It was interesting at this recent meeting to observe the huge difference between a typical business leader audience and that group of commanders – all highly intelligent, charismatic and eloquent and with the habit of leadership (as opposed to status) ingrained in their body language, attitudes, words and behaviour. Markedly different from the highly-variable calibre of a business audience. Don't get me wrong, certainly there are some very talented, capable and powerful leaders in business. Maybe 1 in 20 though? An optimistic or pessimistic assessment? You decide.

 I was struck that, in military command structures, we identify the best-of-the-best early, groom them with very considerable coaching, training, experiential learning, mentoring and opportunities for personal and professional growth – and where to reach senior leadership requires outstanding ability. Here Robert Greenleaf’s ‘servant leadership’ is the norm – see for an illustration. Crucially, and this my real point and response to Colin's piece (it had to come eventually) – military commanders have always been ‘leadagers’ – having to manage the minutiae of resources and process while providing ultimate inspiration and leadership in life-and-death situations. I suspect too few of these lessons are being observed and adopted in business and in business-leader development. I plan to begin doing something about that.

The Problem with Leadership...

Ah yes, the problem with leadership. I don't think we can distill the leadership challenge we face in the UK down to '1 problem'... though it would be great if we could, as we'd then only have one problem to solve, whereas I fear we have hundreds.

From my perspective, here are a few of the main 'leadership issues' we need, as a nation and as a profession, to address:
• The lack of emotional engagement of managers and staff in the vision, purpose and values of their organisation - many (the majority of?) organisations still appear to view staff as numbers on an HR database, hired to perform tasks and moved, fired or downsized whenever profit targets dictate. Studies suggest more than 40% of ‘discretionary performance’ is withheld or latent and could be unleashed by inspiring leadership.
• Less than 20% of those in the role of 'professional leader & manager' are actually qualified in the role – data suggests that, while many are qualified to graduate level or above, very few have those qualifications in leadership & management. Boards and senior teams are well populated with accountants, marketers, HR professionals and other areas of technical expertise – but who now have a different role, as strategic leaders, tasked with defining a vision, setting direction, engaging and communicating, enthusing and inspiring….
• Short-Sighted Management by Numbers - while many talk of a ‘stakeholder model’, it is clear from behaviour that shareholders and the city significantly outrank customers, staff, suppliers and society in the minds and agendas of many boards. Remuneration based on earnings per share, annual profit targets and a reactionary media all serve to reinforce an apparent natural (and national) tendency toward short-term results at the expense of long-term strategy and the greater good
• Action, Tasks and Processes at the expense of Thinking, Reflection and Strategy – my experience of many senior leaders indicates that they value caution, predictability and task completion beyond all else – leading to organisations that disempower managers and staff, the establishment of tribal targets that conflict and compete for resources, compartmentalisation of activity and a drive for endless ‘busyness’ at the expense of reflection, emotional engagement, learning, thinking and innovation

I could go on. Probably for about a fortnight. But I will stop there.

For now.

What does the future hold for leadership?

An interesting and complex issue.... and one that I feel will vary considerably depending on the distance to this particular horizon. If we're talking about the next 2 or 3 years.... then I foresee a desperate struggle by those who truly wish to 'lead' to keep a focus on innovation and inspiration when the focus of most meetings and inititaives is budget constraints. I am seeing lots of organisations respond to the current economic conditions by using Theory X styles, MBO, hard targets and incentives to drive performance - presumably via managers who have yet to watch Daniel Pink's Drive piece on RSAnimate ( and thereby to realise the ultimate futility of that approach. But then, my Grandfather had many pithy things to say on the subject of human nature (some favourites: "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes", or how about "only the boss is allowed an opinion, everyone else needs facts" or even "genius wilts in the face of persistence"?) and he was very fond of the old chestnut about "desperation is the mother of invention"... which perhaps gives some hope for innovation after all. Warning words though. Many senior teams seem to think you can drive innovation by institutionalising it through process.... I am unconvinced. Steven Johnson has some excellent input here in his talk on 'where ideas come from (

If we are talking about a more distant horizon, it gets very interesting! Pitch forward 20 or 30 years... and I can imagine work will have shifted significantly. Away from communal workplaces to work independently at home or on the move through technology, away from London into the provinces, away from the industrial centres into the countryside, away from full-time employment toward portfolio working, away from teams toward virtual communities, away from tasks & processes toward collaborative projects and so on. My colleague David Smith has much to say on this subject at and paints some very interesting pictures of future trends and the implications of congruence. If you consider the ramifications of a combination of even some of these changes... whither leadership? Engagement and empowerment on a whole new level. Theory Y finally the norm, sharing for the greater good taking over from exploitation and competition? I wish. But you never know...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Where are the Strategic Leaders?

A discussion earlier today with a very experienced and successful colleague got on to the subject of senior leaders and the 'art' of strategic leadership. In his view, many senior leaders confuse the tactical with the strategic - sometimes deliberately as a way to keep apparently busy and yet avoid tackling the really big issues or facing up to the need for a bold, clear vision. Our shared experience of Boards has illustrated how ill-prepared and reluctant many Directors and other senior leaders are to take on the panoramic view of the whole organisation and its universe - preferring to remain within their 'discipline' of Finance, Marketing, Engineering or whatever.

Unfortunately, if senior leaders remain rooted in their functional role, the creation of a whole-organisation and strategic vision becomes virtually impossible and we develop instead the 'council of war of tribal chiefs' that so many board meetings turn out to be.

Worrying, on a number of levels. Wasn't this the very problem the MBA was designed to solve? Our discussion made evident that 20 years or more of MBA growth hasn't sufficiently lifted the sights of many senior teams, neither, apparently has it brought a more holistic grasp of the many strands and disciplines of strategic leadership to the boardrooms of UKPLC.

Is this evidence of a dearth of creative thinking in our senior leaders?
Or evidence that we value, and therefore promote, the 'wrong' skills and capabilities - seeking a safe pair of hands and the low-risk option rather than embracing the maverick or the disruptive influence?

More importantly: how can we hope to be truly visionary and strategic, to be innovative and entrepreneurial when the people who exhibit these characteristics and 'think differently' are so often marginalised or attacked like a virus?

The world is changing radically and at unprecedented speed. We face the toughest challenges since WWII.

Where are the strategic leaders?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Engaging your people in your transformational vision

Being a leader can be tough. It can be lonely. It can be challenging and it can even sometimes seem to be impossible. But let's not forget that, for the lucky ones among us who really enjoy leading people and taking responsibility for achieving six impossible things before breakfast, its the most satisfying and fulfilling job anyone can have.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the leadership role is engaging and inspiring your people to (as Gardner said so eloquently - and I'm paraphrasing from memory, so forgive any poetic license) 'lift their sights from petty preoccupations to unite in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts'. That is to say, a large part of our role and our value is the ability to articulate a compelling vision that generates excitement, enthusiasm and commitment (which, by no coincidence at all, is one of the primary 'behaviours' laid down in the national standards for leadership).

I plan to say much more on this subject in coming weeks and posts - but for now, let this key question suffice:

What is your compelling vision?

To what extent does it generate excitement, enthusiasm and commitment?

To what extent does it unite people in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts?

Why not ask people and find out?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Releasing the discretionary 30-50%

Recent studies, such as that conducted by Nita Clarke and David MacLeod on behalf of government in late 2009, have shown beyond reasonable doubt that, in organisations where leaders have successfully engaged their people in pursuit of a vision with enthusiasm and commitment, performance is increased very significantly. Most reports suggest that the 'discretionary performance' that is contained within untapped potential or is deliberately witheld due to disaffection amounts to around 30%-50% of the total available.

It is therefore clear that this discretionary performance represents a far larger source of profitability than any 'cost-out' exercise is likely to generate. The MacLeod report also indicates additional benefits from engaging and aligning people with the organisation's vision and strategy - as indicators such as:

  • Levels, frequency and impact of innovation
  • Staff turnover
  • Absence
  • Quality and volume of applicants for vacancies

...all show similarly significant increases.

We're not talking about a bit of an increase here, either. Some examples from the MacLeod report:

  • Those companies with a highly engaged workforce improved operating income by 19.2 per cent over a period of 12 months, whilst those companies with low engagement scores saw operating income decline by 32.7 per cent over the same period.
  • Over a 12 month period, those companies with high engagement scores demonstrated a 13.7 per cent improvement in net income growth whilst those with low engagement saw net income growth decline by 3.8 per cent.

Both these examples are taken from a study of 664,000 employees worldwide. Another example from a study of nearly 24,000 business units by Gallup...

  • ...found that engagement levels can be predictors of sickness absence, with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days per year, compared with disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days per year

Consider the impact of these measures alone on your organisation.

I commend the report to you. As leaders, we all have stretching and challenging targets to achieve 'more of better for less' - I believe John Gardner said it best while in Government in the USA in the 1990's -

True leaders articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations to unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts.

At the National Centre for Strategic Leadership @ Silverstone - (see the intro blog at, our purpose is to work with leaders to help them do exactly this and then to engage their people at all levels, through dynamic, passionate, effective and constant communication with the organisation, teams and individuals.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

May You Live in Interesting Times...

So, allegedly, the ancient Chinese curse goes. Well, we are certainly living through some interesting times. Times that are likely to get even more fascinating over the next 5-10 years, as we slash & burn our way through the public sector and reduce people's discretionary income to a point where many things that a couple of generations of C1 and C2 households (Google the ACORN classification if you want to know more) have considered to be basic 'rights' - the Sky box/big TV, 2nd & even 3rd cars, second homes, bigger houses, cheaper mortgages, winter holidays etc - perhaps return to their former place as 'priveliges' for the more affluent B and A groups..... meanwhile the world is altering dramatically under our feet - significant population growth in some countries (China, Brazil, Mexico, India) while populations shrinks in others (most of the EU for example) - UK is growing, primarily through immigration, creating business opportunities for many sectors and many other positive impacts on our economy and chances of recovery (unless you're a Daily Mail reader, in which case there's a strong chance it signals the end of the world).
If you're between 40 and 60 - and on this site a lot of you probably are - then you've grown up in a world where English was the business language (well, American actually, but lets not quibble) and the world ran on a Judeo-Christian model. We communicated by letter & phone but preferred face-to-face and we disliked being sold to ('Can I help you?' - 'No thanks, I'm just looking' - sound familiar?). We used the computer at work. We went online to buy some stuff but felt slightly uncomfortable giving our bank-card details to a computer screen. We worked hard, aimed for promotion and sought to provide the best life we could for our families. All sounds perfectly normal doesn't it. Most of these assumptions make no sense to today's 15 year olds. And in 10 year's or so, they will be our primary workforce (well, not mine, because I'll have retired and be living on an island somewhere). 5 years after that, they will be in charge of everything. How do you think orgnaisations will operate then?
Have you seen the 'shift happens' movie(s)? if not, try this one below.... There are several versions from different perspectives now available on YouTube.
Which brings me to my real point. What are we doing as leaders to take account and advantage of this new reality? How will we need to change our behaviour? Our processes? Our attitudes? I'd be interested in your views.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The National Centre for Strategic Leadership at Silverstone

For many years, I've been uneasy about the 'fragmentation' and resulting lack of coherence in the world of leadership development in the UK. There are so many disparate strands of activity, with Universities, Business Schools, Training Providers, Colleges, E-Learning Providers, Coaching Companies, Consultants and a range of Professional Bodies all offering their services to organisations and individual leaders. Even I'm confused, and I do this for a living.

In terms of approach, the market is no clearer:

We have the National Occupational Standards which describe the competencies required to be an effective manager - excellent and incredibly useful - but wrapped up in an NVQ framework that doesn't appeal to the majority of more senior leaders

We have Professional Qualifications - but with the Chartered Management Institute - the lead body for the profession - offering a professional route to qualification at anywhere between team leader (level 2) and PLC CEO (L8) - but competing with another body, the Institute of Leadership & Management, also offering qualifications at levels 2-7 - it would be no suprise if people were a little confused

Then we have the major Business Schools - Ashridge, Henley, Cranfield, Oxford SAID et al - all delivering serious and cutting-edge development programmes for senior leaders - but seldom linked in any way to the professional framework and typically carrying a price-tag that puts the programmes way out of reach of any but the wealthiest global and blue-chip organisations

A plethora of independent Training Providers deliver their own open and in-company programmes - often non-accredited, having evolved over time from their own work and therefore rarely linked to professional standards or qualifications - and therefore hard to benchmark and of commensurately variable quality

The many Colleges of Further Education usually deliver some professional qualifications in leadership and management - but typically at lower levels and mostly through part-time lecturers of very variable quality and levels of experience

...and so it goes on.

In recent years I have often vented this frustration with colleagues in other institutions and in each area of provision - and a group of us have decided to combine our expertise, put our money and reputations where our mouth is and do something about it.

The National Centre for Strategic Leadership at Silverstone is that something.

In discussion with Silverstone it became clear that they wanted to invest in developing the provision of education at the circuit and were prepared to support our strategy. By a long and complex route, the NCSL was born.

NCSL seeks to unify and integrate the many strands of leadership development to create a coherent set of programmes that utilise the cutting-edge thinking of our best business schools and integrate that with the professional qualification framework and national standards, supported by innovative behavioural assessment, 121 leadership coaching and the best e-learning and divergent thinking provision available - bringing these approaches together to deliver programmes aimed at senior leaders in the majority of organisations that simply cannot afford the £40,000 or more to place each senior leader on an executive MBA.

If this sounds interesting to you, visit the NCSL blog page and comment to express your interest - we need help, support and participation from the leadership community - academic, professional and especially practitioners in leadership roles- to engage in many areas of our work -to conduct research, pilot and trial approaches, undertake programmes and so on. Visit to give an email address and the areas of interest and we'll be in touch. Thanks for your help.

Monday, 26 April 2010

In Pursuit of Transformation.

Some further thoughts on the CMI Manifesto....

When published last Autumn, the CMI Manifesto lit a fire in me that almost took me by surprise. I had for so long supressed my frustration at the standard of leadership that I routinely encounter at middle and senior level in organisations, that I'd almost lost sight of how much it matters and how crucial it is that we change it.

When I look at the 'hierachy' in organisations I see a system predicated on so many outmoded concepts.

Payment by 'rank' on the pyramid. We still seem to struggle with how to reward people for their impact in sophisticated ways: with promotion and bonus still by far the main methods in common use. One rewards expertise and impact by removing and potentially diminishing it, the other assumes avarice as the main driver for leadership action.

Leadership Development as a means of enhancing CV and salary. Candidates for MBA are recruited by information about salary enhancement (the business school rankings actually use this as a key indicator) - commensurately far less emphasis is placed on becoming more effective or having a greater impact, let alone on the sociological implications of being a more ethical or people-oriented leader and thereby transforming lives.

Ceilings, glass and in other forms. A diagram from Grant Thornton on the CMI website shows the continuing predominance of male senior leaders (79% in the UK, 80% in USA). Were it to show ethnicity I suspect the situation would be even worse. In these times where we mostly appear to recognise and talk about the need for leaders to be supportive, developmental and people-oriented and to be a mentor, coach and empowering coordinator and facilitator - still only 21% female senior leaders.... why? I'm sick of hearing (and saying) ' it will happen, it takes time for women to rise to board level'.... well we've had more than enough time. And it's still not happened. Now what?

So, to the manifesto. We need leadership. Effective, powerful, human, visionary, ethical leadership. For the greater good, not (just) personal gain. And we need it now. We are part of a profession that is predominantly 'amateur' in the sense that only a small minority are professionally qualified in the field. It's well past time to change it.

Its time that the excuses and justifications for 'not being qualified' were brought into the light and examined:

"I have 10, 20, 30 (insert number of your choice) years' experience in management"
OK. I've been driving a car for 30 years. I still struggle with parallel parking, miss turnings and need a double space at Tesco on a weekend. I've been playing golf for more than 20 years. I lose balls over the fence or in lakes quite often. I have a 6 or even a 7 in most rounds. I suspect that some good coaching would help me improve significantly in both skills. Experience is only part of the story.

"I'm qualified to degree, masters, post-graduate (delete as applicable) level something else"

Don't get me wrong, a high level of qualification in a technical discipline is good news and I'm glad to hear it. But once you're a senior leader, that's not your job any more. You're not an accountant, or a marketer, or an engineer, or a chemist - you're a strategic leader and part of the collective decision-making unit that establishes and communicates vision, formulates strategies and plans and leads the organisation. It's a different job. And a very (ultimately?) difficult one that requires a complex skill-set and constant reflection and development.

"I've already 'made it', so what's the point?"

Well, if you subscribe to the view that professional qualification is about CV and salary, then it's a fair question. I don't hold that view though. I believe that senior leadership is the hardest and most complex role one can have. It requires every ounce of capability one has and more besides. It brings forth new challenges every week and gets harder by the day. And yet it is the most important chair in which one can sit. As a senior leader in a large organisation, your decisions shape the future and affect hundreds or even thousands of people's lives. They may even affect whole sectors, regions or nations. The next decade will see unprecedented change and a global shift for which many appear singularly unprepared - see for more on this. It's not about CV or salary. It's about being the best you can be and being ready for the future. Without effective CPD we are dead and buried.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Ethical Leadership

This week's topic begins to explore the many issues of 'ethics' when applied to leadership - and supports unit 6002 of the L6 CMI qualification in Management & Leadership and unit 7014 of the L7.

Ethics - one of those terms that everyone knows and thinks they understand - right up to the moment when they attempt to examine or explain it!

In the context of leadership, the term 'ethical' usually relates to decisions and strategies, and the foundations on which they are based.

For example:

  1. Is it 'ethical' for a senior leader to commit his or her organisation to a marketing or pricing strategy that is likely to cause financial losses in a competitor, simply to use their superior purchasing power to force down prices to a level that the competitor cannot match?
  2. Or to choose to source goods from a 3rd world country that uses what we in the UK would consider to be 'child labour', in order to reduce costs?
  3. Or to supply goods or services to a country that may choose to use them to make war on another nation or to supress an internal conflict?
In these examples, it may seem possible to make a reasonably clear value judgement.... but imagine that, in example 1, the strategy is a last-ditch attempt to save their own organisation from closure and the loss of thousands of jobs, and that the competitor is a much larger organisation that can more easily bear the impact..... or that in example 2, the jobs filled by children bring wages that enable their families to survive drought or famine... It is often a complex decision-making process and ethics is rarely 'black & white' or straightforward.

This is an issue that affects leaders everyday on some level, as there is probably an ethical implication or consideration in every significant decision a leader makes. Time pressures and stakeholder interests can often make it challenging for a leader to maintain their objectivity and to make decisions in a balanced and considered manner. This is why it is a fundamental concept for key units of a professional leadership qualification.

In the context of the units in CMI qualifications, it is reasonable to take the term 'ethical' to mean 'doing what is right', as opposed to 'doing what is expedient'.

Even this, however, is not a clear guideline. As our second example above illustrates, the concept of 'right & wrong' is not absolute but contextual. Is it ethically wrong for a 14 year old to take paid employment? We might consider this to be unreasonable in a prosperous nation such as the US or UK - but, in a nation that considers marriage quite normal at age 13, is 14 still too young to work?

It is dangerous and potentially misleading to consider all ethical decisions solely from one's own context and perspective. This can be challenging, not just when dealing internationally, but also closer to home, for example when dealing with staff and colleagues from different cultural backgrounds or suppliers from another sector. It can be an interesting point of contention between age groups (as anyone with teen-age children will know) and it can draw clear distinctions between socio-economic groups, even in the 21st century's supposedly egalitarian and classless society. I recently worked with a group of 19 year-old learners and discovered that only 3 out of 20 of them had parents who had paid employment and that 12 stated that neither parent had ever worked. It is inevitable that the values and ethics of a person will be shaped by nurture as well as nature. Thus the ethical 'web' upon which the 'rightness' of decisions can be judged is complex and varied. A leader needs to be sensitive to the implications of their decisions and strategies, weighing them up from a range of stakeholder perspectives, to be confident that they are behaving ethically. Some might say (Karl Marx for instance) that a commercial organisation and a capitalist state is inherently and institutionally unethical, as it is based on the exploitation of the labour of some for the benefit and profit of others. For most of us though, the 'ethics' of our decisions are less esoteric and more pragmatic; is our decision sound? Does it represent the best choice available? Is it the most appropriate choice to best meet the needs of all stakeholders? Ethical dilemmas and unethical decisions are more likely to occur when the needs of one stakeholder completely override the needs of others - for example, the needs of shareholders over those of staff or the needs of the organisation over the needs of society or the community.

What key decisions will you make this week? Try the 'ethical' test on them.... do they represent the best choice for the greater good of all stakeholders?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Strategic Culture - setting the tone

This think-piece might help anyone who is considering the topic of 'culture' within a CMI qualification at L7 or L8 or who is reflecting on their organisation's strategic position and future direction.

Strategic Culture - a fancy title, a potentially obscure concept and the title of one of the units in the CMI Level 8 (PhD level) professional qualification in Strategic Direction.

None of which is the reason that it matters.

Strategic culture is much more significant than that. It is about the spirit in which managers manage, the underlying assumptions on which decisions and designs are based and the unspoken 'norms' against which behaviour is judged.

To illustrate this basic 'normative reference' concept - a while ago I was attending an international conference. An overseas delegate with whom I had been grouped in morning syndicates asked if I wanted her to bring me some lunch from the buffet - I said yes and offered in return to fetch coffee. On my return I found a single plate containing many finger food savoury items, both hot and cold, along with some dessert and cream. I was nonplussed and felt quite uncomfortable while eating my lunch - worried that my reaction had offended, worried that others might look at my plate and think I was 'wierd', worried that I wasn't going to be able eat the dessert that now had sweet chilli sauce on it.... yet this was really only a very slight behavioural variation on what I would consider the 'norm'.... 1 plate, not 2

We had just experienced a very real and basic difference in what we consider 'normal' - a 'clash' between our cultural perspectives.

When 2 organisations merge, such cultural dissonance will crop-up every day, as the two 'cultures' bash into each other. For example: one such merger in which I had a minor part brought together an organisation with a very flexible leadership style and low-key attitude to hierarchy with another, much more formal and traditional culture. This variation in basic assumptions about 'how we do things around here' was evident in almost every function and process. In management meetings - where half arrived in suits and on time having prepared for the agenda items, while the others viewed the start-time and agenda as a rough-guide and expected to have ad hoc debate about anything that arose from the meeting. As a neutral attendee, it was like crossing the border from one country to another and then back again every few minutes. Their decision to have a rotating chair (not literally) produced a wonderfully random lurch from one prevailing style to the other. Decisions were very hard to reach and generally satisfied neither party. The term 'management team' was no more than a courtesy title... this was certainly not yet a team.

Perhaps then, the key issue here is to establish a strategic culture as a deliberate act and in service of a strategic intent. To recognise that such a culture affects every aspect of the organisation, its people and products or services.

While there are many schools of thought on the subject (see Handy, Lewin, Pascale, French & Raven, Mintzberg, Moss Kanter, Peters, Mullins and many others), personally I have come to the view that organisational culture is most typically reflective of the style, attitudes, values and behaviours of the top team.

I coined the phrase 'Organisational DNA' many years ago to illustrate what I mean. Just as with DNA testing, if you analyse any major process or event in an organisation, you can deduce much about the whole 'organism'. Some of my colleagues and I used to play a game called 'receptionology', whereby we would try to describe the culture of an organisation we were visiting within 1 minute of arriving in their reception area; by looking at the things on the walls (Certificates, awards, artwork, PR etc), the furniture and decor, the receptionist/desk/greeting and so on. Generally the look, feel, attitudes and approaches evident here will be reflected commensurately in leadership style and management behaviour. We generally got few surprises when we met the top team!

A simpler example and one closer to home for many; as a teacher or lecturer, I would often be fascinated on parent's evenings by how easy it was to 'match' parents to their offspring before being introduced. Generally, with any student who had behavioural or attitudinal issues it was easy to identify the origin in the 'strategic culture' of their family and homelife.

All that is designed simply to prove the concept: Culture reflects the top team, culture sets behavioural and attitudinal norms, culture affects the design: of the organisation, of management, of process, of product & service, of job roles and so it goes on.

Yet the topic and concept of 'culture' is seen by many to be an 'airy-fairy' or woolly and amorphous concept and thus 'nothing to do with me'.

I suggest it is anything but ephemeral and that it is very much to do with any leader. You set the tone. It affects everything and everyone. It dictates performance, sets expectations and drives every aspect of the organisation. I might even be provocative and say that, far from 'not mattering', as the attitude of some leaders suggests, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS SO MUCH.

Consider this: As a leader, you tell people what to care about and what matters. Your reaction to events or processes, the things you stress or focus on, the things you do or say first, the things you choose not to do - all of this sends overt and subliminal messages to your people, telling them what really matters and where their priorities should lie.

If you wish to encourage creativity, empowerment and innovation (and if you don't, you probably should) - then it is crucial that you reward the taking of risks, encourage people to try things, allow people discretion and freedom to act and that, as Tom Peters puts it, "you reward heroic failures".

If you are naturally cautious or conservative, chances are that your people will automatically avoid any possibility of risk or failure - with mediocrity and stagnation the most likely result. By the same token, if you are brave to the point of recklenssness and love taking chances - then you can confidently predict rather a lot of 'heroic failures' will be coming your way! Clearly, context is everything. Many environments cannot afford such failures. I myself would be unhappy to take a domestic flight if I felt that the culture of Air Traffic Control was one of 'bravery and recklessness'. However, and this is the crux, if you want significant performance improvement, a step-change in organisational success or even an effective process for the identification and eradication of problems - then people must feel empowered to attempt and champion change and to make local decisions.

Your 'strategic culture' must support your strategic intent.

The Unit at L8 has this (among other things) to say about Strategic Culture:

(A leader must) ...identify and critically evaluate the conceptual grounds on which current perceptions of inter-organisational policy and strategy are based

and must go then on to shape the culture accordingly to...

...develop researched logical, powerful and coherent arguments for discussion with stakeholders and influencers which challenge the status quo in terms of thinking and structures

This requires the ability to stand back from the organisation and your own role to observe it dispassionately and objectively:

How does the top-team behave?

What is the prevailing leadership style of the top team and the overall leader?

What cultural 'Norms' have you established?

To what extent do they support or inhibit your strategic intentions?

and most of all....

What needs to change if your stategic goals are to be achieved?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Now is the winter of our discontent...

It's February and we're officially 'out of recession'. Good news... you'd think. Yet all the news bulletins I hear are full of doom & gloom and stroies of closures and job losses. Soon the media circus will roll into 'election' mode and once again find stories, nicknames and cynical bylines that further diminish our respect for our political leaders. Some commentators believe this election will produce the lowest electoral turnout in history. I hope they're wrong. Never have we faced such a complex time, nor a time when we all needed to celebrate our democracy and take part in shaping our nation. It does set one to thinking though.... imagine if we were all voted in and out of office by our colleagues? An interesting thought.

Would you get in?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

2010 - a time of great change, in search of great leadership

2010 has certainly come in like a lion. Retailers cautiously optimistic after a better-than-expected Christmas, economists apparently either harbingers of financial armageddon or reporters of the first signs of green-shoots. Probably both are right. Outside my window it looks like Narnia and the forecast is for more snow for the foreseeable future.

This seems to me to be an important year. For so many reasons. We are on the cusp of many big things. The signs of major change are everywhere, as we wake up to the challenge of global warming, face the poverty of the developing world, watch the balance of economic power shift towards Brazil, Russia, India and China and witness the rampant growth of technology.

How should a leader respond to all this flux?

In the same way as always: By providing the leadership basics...

  • Clarity of strategic direction
  • An insightful and balanced scorecard of performance measures
  • A fair, meritocratic and motivating system of recognition and reward
  • Inspiration to enable managers & staff to achieve peak performance
  • Constant development of skills and capabilities
  • A permanent focus on the continuous improvement of process and performance at every level
  • Constant communication, about everything that matters
  • A culture of innovation, commitment, fun and achievement

Easy really. It was always so and remains so.

The odd thing is, we all know this to be the case.

Yet other things get in the way and drain our time, resources, attention and energy.

Cut through all that. Make 2010 the year when you really make it happen.

Its your choice.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Hard to believe it's been more than 30 years since John Lennon said those words. Ah well, as a wise man once said; time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. So that was 2009, was it? Not the UK's finest hour for many reasons. MPs expenses, banker's bonuses, terrorist enclaves, environmental meltdown, the rich and powerful flexing their muscles in the libel courts in a battle to curb free speech....

...and yet.

Every day I am surrounded by people working hard, striving to achieve things, trying to give their best in service of a worthy vision. In the streets I see people in shops trying to buy gifts to please and delight their loved ones - and a majority of them seem to be smiling. The human spirit remains indomitable. The capacity to withstand 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' endures. Despite everything, we stand. We deliver. We seek to find meaning. We look to believe in and follow something.

That spirit is the power source that will enable us to forge a new path, overcome whatever obstacles are put in our way and work together to deliver a better world. We are about to agree a landmark pact to reduce global warming, we are providing massive aid to those less fortunate, we seek constantly for better ways to do and be.

As a leader, that power is available to you.

You just have to give the people something to believe in - and then help them find a way to be the best they can be.

Sounds like a good resolution for 2010, doesn't it?

I wish you all a peaceful holiday time and a successful new year.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Man plans.... and the Gods laugh

I got a wake-up call this week at a presentation on 'futures and trends' from David Smith, CEO of Global Futures and Foresight (I recommend a visit to - who took the audience through a huge range of social, economic, environmental and technological trends and then looked at possible impacts. Aside from the huge implications of many of the trends in themselves, the interrelation of many has even bigger ramifications that differ dramatically from nation to nation, sector to sector and organisation to organisation. I felt a chilling realisation that I have been so focused on my organisation, my vision and my world that I'd almost forgotten that the planet rolls on and global changes continue, oblivious to my strategising and planning.

I was reminded that, while leadership is such a crucial factor in any organisation's success, the secret of successful strategy is often alignment with the prevailing winds. Many (most?) of the biggest success stories in business have resulted from deliberate (and sometimes accidental) alignment of an organisation's plans, intentions, products and services with the tides of life and social change. Sometimes its a 'chicken or egg?' situation, but the success of Subway has clearly been helped by the trend towards a 24/7 life on the run... and who knows what would have happened to Starbucks, Costa et al without Rachel, Monica, Joey etc on the couch at Central Perk? My point is that the world is turning and we live in a time of unprecedented flux.... the next 2 decades will see the world transformed physically, culturally and socio-economically.

I nearly forgot. I won't again.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Christmas Dally... and other management dances

Right about now, leaders and their teams all over the UK (and probably all over several other countries too) will be making plans for the thousands of things they want to achieve, change, implement and address in their sphere of influence. (Indeed, if they are anything like me, they'll be planning to address things in other people's sphere of influence too). If I was the gambling type, I'd be prepared to bet that much of this planning centres on things to be done 'after Christmas'. For years now I have observed, with increasing frustration, our working year being gradually eroded by an acceptance that the months of July and August are 'dead' due to holidays and that December is 'dead' due to the Christmas break.... in my world of education, you can add 'April' (Easter), 'June' (exams) and 'September' (new academic intake) into the dead pool too. Leaving only half of the year to do a year's worth of leading & managing... As far as I can tell, it has just been accepted by the majority of leaders that these 'limbo' periods not only exist but are perpetuated.

Let's draw a line under it. Whatever can be done in January can just as easily be done in December, or better still right now.

You, as a leader, cannot accept the posponement of important leadership action to improve performance (and, let's face it, if the action isn't designed to do that, then why the heck are you doing it at all?) just because it's 'not worth trying to do it in December' or, (and I've actually heard this said in the last couple of weeks), because 'if you do it just before Christmas people will have forgotten by the time they come back'.... If we really think so little of our people, or if we believe they truly have the retentive powers of an elderly goldfish, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. For my part, I have even been able to recall things from 2 or even 3 months ago without recourse to hypnosis and confidently expect to be able to recall the events of December with some clarity well into the new year.

Frankly, in my view the holidays are just an excuse to procrastinate. If something needs doing and is important....

Do it now.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Who are you and what do you stand for?

If, as I've repeatedly suggested, leadership is a lot about character and is affected greatly by a leader's personality, values and vision - then consider the following very scary questions....

How would a colleague describe you to someone significant that you hadn't met? What would be their response to questions about your values and your vision? If someone asked a member of your own team 'what does xyz stand for?'... what do you think they would say?

You'd be wise to think carefully and deeply about these questions. The picture of 'you' that people carry in their heads affects everything...
  • It shapes the spirit in which they hear what you say
  • It shapes how they respond to your requests and needs
  • It determines how much attention they give to your work
  • It 'places' you in their league table of priorities
  • It adds to or subtracts from your ability to affect change
More than 10 years ago, Daniel Goleman wrote an article in Harvard Business Review entitled 'what makes a leader'. It has become a modern classic and a think-piece for our time. Although he had introduced the original idea of Emotional Intelligence a few years earlier, it was this seminal piece that projected EI into the mainstream of leadership & management thinking - and that first seriously proposed the idea that technical skill, cognitive IQ and experience might not be sufficient reasons to appoint someone to a leadership role - and might not even be particularly significant factors in a leader's effectiveness. I commend the article to you. It is easy to find on the web - and it builds on the meagre paragraphs I offer here on the significance of the way you are perceived.

Try asking a few trusted colleagues my opening questions - and ask them to be open and honest with you. Whatever they tell you is some of the most important feedback you will ever receive.

Use it well.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The CMI Manifesto for a Better Managed Britain

In a time of uncertainty, people turn to their leaders and expect guidance, reassurance, confidence and clear direction. If it is not forthcoming, they can quickly lose focus, become demotivated and their performance inevitably suffers. This is true for each of us as individuals and for teams, for whole organisations and even for nations.
Well, we are very much in a time of uncertainty now. Economies in flux, nations in conflict, the balance of global power shifting daily toward the east. In the UK, insufficient foresight from successive governments of various persuasions and a lack of investment in the future has delayed the timely replacement of our lost industries and left us with a vulnerable economy that lacks self-sufficiency and produces too little of real value. The banking crisis was a wake-up call that we have to heed if we are to avoid a repeat or, worse still, an accelerating slide out of the world's top rank.

We have never been more in need of leadership, in every sense.

The Chartered Management Institute has tabled a series of pledges, laid out in a manifesto, that commits Government, Employers and the hundreds of thousands of members of the Management Profession to a comprehensive and concerted effort to upgrade the leadership capabilities of Britain.

As one of the G8 nations, it is totally unacceptable that less than 20% of our managers have any form of professional qualification in their primary role. This puts us significantly behind the majority of our immediate national competitors. Can you imagine the outcry if the same were true in the ranks of Doctors, Lawyers, Pilots? Management has arguably a much more significant part to play in the lives of the majority.

I urge you to go to the CMI website at and sign up to the CMI manifesto. If you are a manager who has yet to achieve a professional qualification in leadership & management, I urge you just as strongly to begin to do something about it. If you are a middle manager with significant responsibilities, a Level 5 qualification is the baseline. For a senior manager, a qualification at Level 7 should be the target.

It isn't sufficient to say 'I already know how to do this job, I've been doing it for years' - in this time of pressure and constant change, we all need to do it better and to consider new approaches. Personally, I am qualified in management at Level 4, level 5 and twice at Level 7. Yet I am still studying to achieve a Level 8 doctoral qualification. More to the point, I'm still learning new things as a result and putting them into practice.

And still realising every week how much I still don't know and how much there is to learn.

Come and join me and the thousands of others on the (endless) road to professional leadership.

Sign the pledge.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Another week, another dollar

It is a Friday afternoon and the end of a long and very productive week. I could use the words 'Frantic' or Hectic' or 'Crazy' - but such potentially 'toxic' words generate feelings of failure or being overwhelmed - and a leader's effectiveness is directly related to feelings of achievement and progress. I have managed to avoid completing just over 66% of the tasks I had scheduled for the week... but achieved dozens of things I hadn't expected to do through opportunities, ideas and the law of unintended consequences.

Only one question here really matters to a leader. Have I made a difference?

If it is possible to give a resounding 'yes' to one's self in response to this question, then everything is good and right and the leader's energy is renewed and efforts redoubled to continue the journey. If there is even a suspicion that the real answer may be no.... performance is reduced, morale sinks and the bed feels warm and preferable to the office come the morning.

Your mission as a leader is to ensure that every Friday night feels like a week of progress and every Monday morning heralds a new beginning and opportunities to move further on.

For you. And for everyone you influence.

Monday, 7 September 2009

On the subject of Data and Numbers

"The Gross National Product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them. The GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. And if GNP includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

A quote from a man with far greater wisdom than I can ever hope to have and one who suffered the fate so often meted out to visionaries: assassination. Robert Kennedy recognised a truth we would be well advised to recall today: The things we think are 'hard facts' like data and performance measures frequently lead us to misleading interpretations, mistaken assumptions and flawed decisions. If a measure of our success or 'progress' such as GDP (GNP in RFK's day) can include so much that we would otherwise consider an indicator of 'bad' performance, what other headline or compound measures of the performance of our organisations do we interpret so simplistically? For example: Does a rise in the number of our staff indicate growth? Does a comparative fall in profits over a previous year indicate weakness in our business performance? Does a rise in share price commensurately indicate strength?

I hope you have a full set of 3 'no' answers - or at least 3 x 'not necessarily'.

Have a look at the top-level performance indicators you use to judge success.

Are they as potentially misleading, simplistic and inaccurate as GDP?

What indicators would give you a truer qualitative picture of your performance?

Managing the diverse workload

I resist at all costs the temptation to use the term 'time management' when talking about this... as with so many words and phrases, this one is laden with baggage. Neuro Linguistic Programming principles tell us that words generate involuntary emotional responses in our heads and hearts..... So perhaps it's because I am of the age to remember such things that the expression 'time management' immediately conjures up images of Filofaxes, hair gel, stripey shirts & braces... a living tableaux of the Virgin Atlantic 25 years advert.... or maybe that's just me.

Either way; in the down-sized, performance-related, six sigma'd world that most of us now inhabit, I strongly suspect that a diary, however fancy and leather-bound, isn't going to be enough to stem the tide of priorities, demands and to-do lists nor to organise them and you.

So how does - and how should - a leader balance the demands of operational management and leadership?

On the one hand, we can all easily fill the working week with tasks; meetings, reports, data analysis, policy-making, stakeholder demands and so on.

On the other hand, regular readers of this blogazine (a word I just made up, but it seems to describe what I'm trying to do here quite well) could be forgiven for thinking that I am exhorting them to swan about being all heroic and charismatic and saying wonderfully pithy things that fire people up and bring tears to their eyes.

Chalk & cheese, oil & vinegar, day & night and other polar opposites spring to mind.

So the key word here has to be 'balance'. Leaders hit trouble when one 'pole' thrives to the detriment of the other.

As with all things, balance can be discerned through alignment with purpose and vision. As a leader, there are many things you wish to make happen and that are your personal responsibility. Further things will be yours by dint of being attached to the team, discipline or unit you lead.

If you had to line them up and apportion 100% between them.... what size of 'slice' would each get from the 'pie' that is your working week, month or year?

Making it almost absurdly simple, try this peice of thinking:

Whatever size the slice, that's the amount of your time that should be devoted to it.... if something is 20% of the 'pie' of your purpose.... it should be worth a day each week.

Is that how your time is being spent?

I'd go and have a look if I were you. I know I'm going to.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Encouraging Innovation - a morality tale for the 21st Century

Innovation. Sometimes the word itself seems an innovation. I hardly remember hearing or seeing it 20 years ago, yet now it seems to be everywhere. The gist of most of the websites and books I encounter on the subject seems to be either that 'we aren't producing enough new ideas' or that 'creativity is the key differentiator in the marketplace'. While both assertions resonate with me to a degree - it seems to me, as with so many of the surfaces that are scratched in our soundbite culture (probably including this blog), that we run the risk here of over-simplification. Simply generating more ideas is not a solution. In my experience, few organisations have the ethos of attempting the untried or the radical. Encouraging people to come up with ideas that are then thwarted or lost in the bureaucracies of permissions, committees and KPIs is more likely to generate frustration and stress than step-changes in performance. If we take 'Creativity' to mean 'thinking differently' then it is certainly crucial as a driver of improvement, as discussed in the various JUT/TQM pieces elsewhere - and as a way of generating future-focused strategies. But it seems to me that there are two distinct channels that matter here: first, the generation of new thinking and secondly: the turning of these ideas into action, implementation and progress. The first is a largely right-brained activity and the second a solidly left-brained and systematic process. For 'innovation' to occur and bear fruit, both channels must be there in abundance and working in harmony. As a leader, you are not meant to be the source of all this creativity (though if you are, that's fine too) or of the subsequent translation of the ideas into action... but you can and must be the one who creates and enables the environment and culture in which new thinking can flourish. But... lies a dilemma: in this competitive and performance-managed world, exacerbated by a post-boom paranoia, leaders are encouraged to assess and minimise risk, to demand and deliver optimum results and to ensure systematic and rational decision-making at every level. And yet new thinking is inherently risky. Innovation carries with it the certainty of occasional failure. To achieve real competitive difference, it stands to reason that the organisation must do or deliver something substantially different, probably even radical. Fine as a concept. Stress and ulcer-inducing for leaders in practice.
Innovation requires bravery and a willingness to propose and/or support the unproven idea, because it has potential. Good sense requires that the risks are assessed and minimised where possible - yet risk will remain and must be borne. The leader must have the ability to sell the idea to stakeholders and the strength to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune should it fail or suffer setbacks.
Stepping back a little - the culture and environment for innovation stems from a willingness to embrace and champion the possible and desirable over the proven and known. Key players must be given the freedom and space to think differently and attempt the untried without fear of retribution for failure. Consider Richard Branson's philosophy in comparison to that of many other global brands - he is passionate about ideas and prepared to support them privately, corporately, financially and publicly - Virgin Galactic being an excellent example. From such courage mankind's great breakthroughs occur. It is unlikely that such leaps forward will stem from a culture of small, continual and incremental improvements to dividends and earnings per share - nor from a culture of conservatism that, by its very nature, suppresses innovation and discourages new thinking.

Food for thought. Today's big question:

How are you encouraging new thinking and creating the freedom to reach for new horizons?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Charisma - friend or foe?

Charisma and the cult of charismatic leadership has generated many millions of words in the leadership field. If you don't believe me or aren't aware of the debate, try Googling the term and stand back. I just did and got nearly 7 million references. The two camps of pro and anti-charisma have been battling it out for decades and the jury is still out.

I can understand why. Those who are pro-charismatic leadership (often perhaps those who see themselves in that vein - or should it be vain?) cite the power of a heroic personality to lift people's spirits to, as Gardner put it, 'conceive & articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations and unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts'. This is much easier to do if a leader is seen as a heroic figure; one people would be happy to follow into battle. The antis cite historical figures such as Napoleon or Hitler as examples of the way such charismatic leadership can lead people down dark roads - the pros can counter with Churchill and JFK, Mandela and now perhaps Obama. It's pretty much an unwinnable argument.

The crux though is this.

If we need, as leaders, to 'unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts' - and we do - then we have to find a way that works and that suits our context, personality and relationships with the people. If you are a natural Churchill (not the dog) and a compelling orator, then it would be madness to waste it and communicate with people by newsletter or email - use the force of your charisma - but use it in the service of a worthwhile vision and goals. If you are more of a process leader or a technocrat, use the power of that - but recognise that it does not engage the hearts of people, however sensible the strategy. People need to be inspired to give of their best and go those extra ten miles. Structures, systems and policies can't make that happen - it happens through the F2F engagement of people in something they perceive to be 'worthy of their best efforts'. If you aren't the one to sell that vision to them. Use someone who is.

But make it real and make it happen.

The Importance of F2F Visibility

The visible leader has the opportunity to influence. It's much harder (though not impossible) to inspire, motivate and develop your people remotely. If you remember the 5 Powers (see elsewhere in another article) - and most especially the one that I suggested has the greatest impact on the motivation and commitment of managers and staff; 'Referent' power - then it is apparent that this power relies upon the impact of a leader's attitudes, values, demonstrated abilities and, to an extent, charisma (more about this vexed subject soon). In an organisation like Virgin, Richard Branson cannot be visible face-to-face (F2F) to a wide enough range of people across their many organisations. Thus he has resorted to the use of PR and the media to remain a visible presence to the people of Virgin. Technology gives us the opportunity to stay F2F with everyone - through Blogs, Intranets, Vodcasts, Webcasts and the like. These have a very different effect to the old-style public meeting - where the speaker is a distant speck and acoustics are a struggle. Research indicates that an individual is far more likely to engage with a vodcast (where they are effectively 121 with the leader) than as part of a faceless crowd.

These technological routes are still though at best a substitute. Better by far to actually see the whites of the eyes of every individual and engage with them F2F and toe-to-toe. Certainly this must be the case for the key players and your immediate reports - a leader's time is clearly an expensive and scarce resource so good judgement is required - return on time invested should be the impact measure.

I would though suggest that this F2F visibility is a far better use of your time than attending yet another routine meeting....

Go out and walk the talk!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Power of the 1 to 1

Up until now, much of the content of these articles has been about the 'public' aspects of leadership: Creating an inspiring vision, developing a culture and ethos that makes the vision feasible, inspiring and motivating the people throughout the organisation to make it happen. All crucial stuff. A visible, inspiring leader who symbolises the ethos and lives the vision is an enormously important factor in leading a successful organisation.

But this 'collective' and 'whole organisation' stuff can only take you so far on its own.

As a wise person once said (and I've no idea who it was),
'organisations change one person at a time'.

To make the vision real and deliver the goals, to make real performance improvement happen, you have to engage with each person face-to-face and toe-to-toe.

Most especially, this has to happen at line management level. While most staff, to varying degrees, have a commitment to the organisation and maybe even to the leader (especially if you have a goodly amount of 'referent power' - see elsewhere); for most of us, it is our direct relationship with our 'boss' that drives our efforts day-to-day.

So, that indicates the need for every line manager to:
  • Engage constantly with their people to bind them to the vision and the performance necessary to deliver it

  • Articulate the performance standards sufficiently to leave each individual absolutely clear what your expectations are for every aspect of their work

  • Hold every individual accountable for their performance, every day, week and month

  • Review that performance frequently, to make it real and enable you to work to support each individual to improve in every key area

In my experience, the best vehicle for this is the 1 to 1 (or 1:1, or 121 - however you want to write it).

For this engagement in performance to cascade throughout the organisation to every 'performer', it needs to be consistently articulated, translated and targeted through the line. I have found that a 2-weekly 121 of no more than 30 minutes can transform performance at the sharp end. The return on time invested is typically very positive - and usually far, far greater than the return from other, larger 'meetings'.

As a senior manager, your responsibility is to begin that cascade. Clearly articulating the vision and associated performance expectations to your own 'reports' and holding them to account for transalting that effectively to the next level. One of the most significant 'competence standards' in the UK National Occupational Standards (NoS) for Management states that an effective leader:

'articulates a compelling vision that generates excitement, enthusiasm and commitment' and goes on to underpin this by asking a leader to:

'Make complex things simple for the benefit of others' and to 'constantly seek to improve performance'

The 121 is a very powerful way to do all these things and to continually reinforce them. Whatever a leader might say about vision in public, it is your day-to-day behaviour that tells people whether your mean it; whether its 'real'.

The frequent 121 can 'make it real' for every one of your manager reports. It can also enable you to drive, monitor and evaluate the way they have handed-on the baton to their reports in their own 121.

Make no mistake; unless we can make this happen every couple of weeks for every individual - so that every person is constantly reminded and held to account for the performance we require to deliver the vision and goals, then we are kidding ourselves and the vision really is (as the more cynical may already believe) just something that's there to impress the customers and be put in a nice frame in the foyer.

Friday, 17 July 2009

JUT, TQM and all that III - possibly the last of the trilogy - but then who knows what thoughts will occur?

The thing about TQM is.... there's a clue in the title.

As with most things, it was given this name for a reason... On the subject of which, yet another of the 8 million things that press my buttons is that I find that people don't think about the names of things... treating them as just an associated noise, without thinking about what the words represent. After all, someone decided to name 'Take That' after a phrase associated with punching someone in a 50's crime novel- and another decided to call a quarter pounder a 'Big Mac', when it's McDonalds... or designed the sign that says 'this door is alarmed'... by what, I wonder?

Anyway, to TQM....
  • Total - meaning absolutely everything & everyone
  • Quality - meaning 'right first time, every time'*
  • Management - meaning the process of planning, organising, coordinating and controlling
So, taken together: 'planning to ensure that everyone and everything is organised and coordinated to be right first time every time'... which isn't a bad working definition to be going on with.

* With the term 'quality' - the proper definition would be 'the totality of features and characteristics that bears upon the ability of a product or service to satisfy stated and implied needs' - but that doesn't make a good bullet point... It does, however, include all the key aspects we need to think about to understand TQM....

The 'Totality of Features...' suggests every aspect of what you do needs to be considered in the light of whether it satisfies the needs of both internal and external customers. Those needs are both the 'stated' ones - what they tell you they want or need - and the 'implied' ones - much harder, and easiest to understand if you think of it as ' all the things they don't even know they want, don't tell you about, but shape the way they perceive you and your work'...

To give an example or two of 'implied' needs.... consider these:
  1. An external customer rings your organisation at 8.40am...and gets no answer. It's unlikely they will have told you they expect to be able to speak to you before 9am....but you can imagine that they will certainly 'judge' you if they can't.
  2. A customer goes into a grocers and asks for 'half a dozen eggs'.... this is riddled with 'implied' needs - 6 hens eggs, raw, unbroken, in a box, fresh etc etc
So, in practice, we need to think about TQM as the process by which we engage everyone in our organisation in dialogue with their internal and external suppliers and customers, with the purpose of gaining a greater understanding of their stated and implied needs, so that we can serve and support each other effectively to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Ask yourself this: 'Could the service and support between our departments be better?' and 'do we ever have problems with our processes, products and services?'

...if the answer to either question is 'yes' - then a commitment to TQM, applied with some judiciously joined-up-thinking, might be a useful start.

If you're serious about this, I recommend benchmarking your organisation against the EFQM Excellence Model

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

JUT, TQM and all that - The Sequel

To be truly 'Joined-Up' in your thinking, several fundamentals must be in place:

  • A cohesive and coherent leadership team with a clear, measurable and fully-shared vision
  • A comprehensive understanding of the internal supplier-customer chain and the service & quality levels necessary between functions in order for the vision to be achieved - understood, owned and accepted by the people in each function
  • Clear and informed thinking at every level of management, which enables decisions to be made in the context of the vision and internal customer needs
  • A sophisticated understanding of your business 'model' and how the various elements inter-relate and impact upon each other
  • A commitment throughout the management team(s) to setting challenging targets which are mutually supportive between individuals, teams and functions and which avoid tribal warfare and competition for resources
  • Constancy of purpose to improve product and service (to quote the first of Deming's 14 points - see link )

Easy, peasy then. Not.

In many organisations - possibly even the majority of organisations - a top level strategy is devolved through individual functions. If the management are enlightened and forward-looking this may even be done through a deliberate process of 'translation' of strategic objectives into regional and local 'flavours' to identify necessary contributions from each function and level.

This is not what I mean by JUT.

Or at least, not sufficient. It is, however, an excellent and necessary platform for what comes next.

To be JUT, this process of devolvement must mean the plans come back up to ensure that the targets and strategies set everywhere:

  • Will together deliver the vision
  • Are mutually supportive and have no conflicts

That is 'joining-up' - ensuring that all the functions, teams and individuals everywhere in the organisation are both aligned to the vision and working in harmony to support each other to achieve it.

It's a tough call.

But then who said leadership would be easy?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Joined-Up-Thinking, TQM and all that

I have a confession to make. Actually I may as well ask for a couple of other offences to be taken into consideration while I'm at it. Back in the 1980's, I was one of the (many) people who helped in the development and promulgation of ISO9000. I was an evangelist for Quality Improvement too and encouraged hundreds of organisations to adopt QA and TQM principles. While I'm getting things off my chest, I also had a (small) hand in the coining of this phrase 'Joined-Up-Thinking' and it's adoption by central government....

I'm truly sorry. All I can say is, it all seemed like a good idea at the time.... So here and in a couple of articles to follow I'm going to explore the reasons it seemd like a good idea...

...and why it actually still is. As long as you do it right.

First, joined-up-thinking - or JUT as I will now call it, from laziness and a desire to avoid RSI from excessive typing.

For decades it really pressed my buttons (still does, actually) when I saw organisations and their leaders launching initiative after initiative without ever appearing to understand the inter-relationship between them.

I'll illustrate first with a manufacturing example: A manufacturer sets targets for its Procurement/Purchasing dept to reduce supplier costs and reduce inventory. Meanwhile tasking the QA function with reducing warranty and rejects and setting Production to increase productivity.

All fine and dandy. But without JUT - the Purchasers will force suppliers to cut costs, will look for suppliers in the third world and will hold minimum stock.... leaving QA with quality problems on supplied goods at 'goods inwards', poor communication with the supplier making resolution of the problems almost impossible and no 'buffer' stock to get them out of trouble. Productivity targets will create pressure to keep production moving and suddenly we're using the dodgy materials we just bought because otherwise everything will stop. Interesting how a drive to improve quality can so easily lead to a reduction in actual quality if it isn't properly thought-through. JUT says we get the depts to work together to find a way of ensuring their individual drives to meet targets are mutually supportive not mutually exclusive. It would be possible to reduce inventory of those items with local suppliers or of lower utilisation. Better supplier relationships and longer 'partnership' contracts could lead to a reduction in price. Less quality problems will naturally increase productivity. All this requires leadership from the top and certainly not the almost arbitrary establishment of performance targets at the expense of each other.

Another example: A well-known global service business set itself a challenge to answer all phone calls within 4 rings, as a demonstration of the quality of its customer service and commitment to satisfying their needs.

Depts were reorganised, measures and technology implemented to track it and new staff recruited to man (and woman) the phones. Imagine yourself as a caller now.... operators answering speedily but either a) having no clue what you are talking about because they were only recruited yesterday (or worse still a temp) or b) desperately trying to get you off the phone - and therefore having little interest in sorting out your problems - so that they can answer the next call before it rings for a fifth time!

Doesn't sound much like excellent service to me. It does however remind me (as so many things do) of a quote from Sir Thomas Beecham, the late great Conductor, who once said "The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes". I often feel that management in many organisations are more interested in the appearance of quality, service or leadership than they are in the reality...more in the noise than the music.

More on this subject later, I have to go to confound and irritate the minds of a group of Masters students.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Dealing with Competition - a leadership case study

I've just watched a fantastic Wimbledon men's singles final where Roger Federer somehow managed to come back from a set down and 6-2 down in the second-set tie-break - with his opponent Andy Roddick thus holding 4 set points for a 2-0 lead.... to win 6 consecutive tension-filled points to make it a set apiece. He then took the third and it all looked over.... but Roddick came back to make it 2-all. The epic final set ended at 16-14 Federer and it set me to thinking: How much of effective leadership in business really comes down to granite determination to succeed? To willpower? To a refusal to give in even when defeat seems inevitable?

Neither man deserved to 'lose' in that amazing final set and it turned, as did the whole match, on a handful of crucial points. Cast your mind back to the same event last year and a similarly epic battle between Federer and Nadal - on that occasion Federer was finally 'beaten'. That must have been so hard to take - especially losing to the 'young pretender' who was expected to dominate from then on. Yet since that day Federer has recovered to win the French open and complete the grand slam of majors and now taken a record 15th major and 6th Wimbledon.

So many leadership lessons here; about self-belief, about giving your absolute all in service of a worthy vision, about accepting defeats and setbacks without allowing it to dent your determination or supress your expectations, and about constantly developing yourself to be the best you can be - an endless journey of lifelong learning.

Some cynics might say that Federer was able to prevail due to the absence of Nadal in both recent major tournaments. To them I say this; it is easy to belittle the achievements of others - to make excuses as to why someone else has achieved things you have not - many do so in order to allow themselves permission not to try too hard or recognise their own shortcomings. True leaders are better than this. But they also take full advantage of unexpected opportunities and the weaknesses of opponents!

I salute Roger Federer as a true champion. And I expect Andy Roddick to recognise that he has what it takes to improve his performance by the 0.1% necessary to win his second major and others beyond. Onward and upward.

It's what we do.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Inspire, Motivate, Develop

Whatever else you do as a leader, your primary role and purpose in life must be to Inspire, Motivate & Develop.

Easy words. Let's examine the way...

How do you Inspire?

Inspiration comes from belief.

If people really believe in the vision and goals you have established - this will inspire them to their greatest efforts. The future represented by this vision needs to be one which is greatly desirable to the people and one which they can see has relevance to their work - they will be inspired to contribute if they can see how their efforts will help to deliver the vision and goals.

Secondly, if they believe in you as their leader, you can inspire them by example, by your values and behaviour. The article on Referent Power in The 5 Powers has much to say that is useful here.

Finally, if they believe in the value of the work they do and the products & services the organisation provides; then this too can inspire them to greater heights.

Often I see this last source of inspiration in organisations who's work is inherently valuable; doctors working 100 hour-weeks, teachers sitting up until 2am marking and preparing lessons, aid workers risking their lives in war zones. Inspiring leadership is almost an 'extra' here; the work is intrinsically inspiring enough. The 'magic trick' of leadership is to be able to replicate this in the less extreme environments of the shop, office or factory.

In my experience, people wish to be of service, to be valuable, to contribute to something worthwhile and to feel proud of the work they and their colleagues do. I would suggest this is just as possible in your environment. You need to find the connection and the trigger to unleash pride. My long-time hero and occasional mentor the late, great Bill Deming spoke about this in the twelfth of his 14 points (
Wiki link) and I perceive this point to have been under-emphasised by many followers of TQM, preferring the more central quality principles of points 3 and 5... to me, pride in work is key to optimum performance. The highest aspirations, most stretching targets and the tightest controls will ultimately fall short if, deep down, we know that, in the great scheme of things, it doesn't really actually matter to us or the rest of the world whether we do our best or not.

So, in summary; inspiration comes from belief, value and pride. What will enable your people to feel a sense of significant achievement from the work they do? One example: I worked with a manufacturer of diggers and tractors once. They had many difficulties with quality problems; errors, defects, shoddy work, poor fit and trim - nothing unusal for a factory with a lot of workers earning low wages and uninspired. We decided to take them to visit the customer's organisation and to watch a film showing the vehicles in action: diggers building new roads in China to drive their economic growth and improve the prosperity and even life expectancy of the rural population; tractors creating food and shelter for starving families in Africa.... and so on. Bye, bye quality problems, hello pride in the work. Now it Matters.

What can you do?

Now, to 'Motivate'. The story and comments above have much to do with both Inspiration and Motivation. In my experience, one gives rise to the other. As we discussed in 'The 5 Powers', it is possible to motivate with reward & punishment or with rank - but typically not for long and not that much.

True motivation comes from referent power, a compelling vision and from the hope of a better tomorrow. Your job is to provide these things.

Every day.

Last, but definitely not least, we have 'Develop'.

The leader is more than a hero or heroine; more than a visionary or guru, much much more than a director, manager or coordinator.

Last and most of all, the true leader must be a coach and a mentor.

This links again to the 5 powers. Guiding, supporting and coaching your people generates both expert and referent power - our two 'preferred' sources - as long as:
  • The people believe in the leader's expertise and right to act as a role-model
  • The guidance is supportive and neither belittling nor patronising
  • The coaching is followed through to reinforce and evaluate impact

I have often found that asking good questions is more important than 'telling'... the most effective teaching is a drawing out, not a forcing in of knowledge.

If you don't have a mentoring or coaching programme in your organisation, I suggest you consider it and involve your key managers, especially senior managers, in its delivery.

Beyond this, we need a programme of continuing personal and professional development - CPD for short. But beware; many organisations I see seem to believe it is enought to 'do lots of training' or to set targets for the amount of CPD people have to do.

Not enough. Not by a long way. You can't just throw resources at this.

  • It must seek to meet identified needs that improve performance in the ways that matter and in line with the skills your vision demands.
  • It must provide a viable return on time and money invested.
  • It must be available and accessible to all that need it.
  • It must be planned, delivered and evaluated before, during and after the fact.
  • It must link to performance appraisal, quality improvement goals, customer feedback, strategic planning and the predicted future needs of the organisation.
    and, crucially
  • It must be managed by the senior management team, not by HR

This isn't a dig at HR; but CPD must be an operational issue for line managers from bottom to top - not 'somebody else's problem'. If it lives on the periphery, it will never deliver real value or ever be truly 'owned' as a way of delivering goals and improving performance.

So there you have it. Inspire, Motivate and Develop. Just pop off and sort that out would you?!!

I appreciate it is a major task. But then it would be...

It's what you're for.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Self-awareness & Leadership

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!" - or so said Robbie Burns once to a Louse... I think this is fundamentally, elementally true for a leader.

The way we are perceived by others affects every aspect of our abilty to lead and improve performance -

1. It dictates how much energy people commit to your strategies

If they believe in you and the values you stand for, if they trust your judgement, if they believe that the vision you propound is worthy of their best efforts and that you are the right man or woman to take them there.... and if they think you truly care about the vision and about them - then you will get every ounce of their commitment and energy. If not.....

2. It shapes the spirit in which you are 'followed'

If you have respect and people believe you mean what you say (and that you'll check with them later), then they will usually do as you ask. Beyond this, if they actually want to please you because your goodwill and approbation are important to them - see the 'Referent' one of the 5 Powers elsewhere in the blog - then you might just get the extra motivation to go beyond compliance to achieve optimum performance

3. It dictates where you sit in their 'priority list'

These days, most people have multiple tasks to achieve, often from several different stakeholders. Quite simply, what they think of you and what you represent decides whereabouts in the 'list' you end up. Do you want be first, or last?

Years ago, I had a PA who had a poster on her wall that summed this up perfectly....

"Everyone brings joy to my life... some when they arrive

...and some when they leave"

I always tried to be in the first group.

And I still do.