Tag Archives: leadership

The soft stuff is the hard stuff – unwrapping culture

29 Aug

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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So said Peter Drucker and it’s a classic quote: spot on. The more I do and see the more convinced I am that culture eats just about everything. Without the right culture, no amount of charismatic leaders, off-site team building events and swanky cheerleading conferences will make much lasting difference. All the good words and intentions will wither and die on stony ground without the right culture.

So, what then is culture? Chris LoCurto says “culture comes down to two things: action and attitude”.  And as the HR Director at my old company told me, it’s about what happens when no-one’s looking: he tells a great story about three different types of employee, each one confronted by an empty crisp packet in the office corridor. The engaged employee instantly picks it up without thinking and drops it in the bin. The disengaged employee walks by on auto-pilot, thinking someone ought to do something about the standards of cleanliness in the building, while the truly disengaged person was probably the one who dropped it in the first place.

Now, “every company has a culture, either by design or by default”. So says a recent video from the CEO Show.

Here then are nine key questions to ask, amassed from plenty of reading, to understand how things really get done in your organisation:

Do departments and people collaborate or compete?

Warning signs to look for… There may be radically different cultures across teams and functions that drive radically different interactions between people. At the unhealthy end of the spectrum, there’s suspicion and mistrust and the dark art of budget planning becomes a zero sum game with winners and losers, and the idea of working together for the higher cause of (whisper it quietly) serving the customer is heresy.

How are decisions really made?

Warning signs… They aren’t really; it’s down to whoever was still talking at that critical moment when everyone else surrendered, for the sake of moving on (or because people were gathering outside the conference room, impatient to start the next meeting). Or, despite all the soundings and consultation, it’s really done hierarchically, by egos and status. 

Are people enabled or merely ‘empowered’?

Warning signs… Being told you’re empowered is not the same as being enabled. It’s not that helpful unless you also have the right tools and support to succeed. 

When confronted with bad news, how do leaders behave?

 Warning signs… Or, perhaps the first question ought to be, do the leaders get bad news, or is every scorecard a sea of green, which is nonetheless at odds with what peoples’ guts are telling them? But assuming the bad news gets through, which instinct is the first to kick in, of BIFFS? Blame; Ignore; Freeze; Fix; Shoot (as in shoot the messenger)

How do senior leaders add value? By criticising or constructing?

Warning signs… Managers who think the best way to add value is to hunt for flaws and ask the tough questions; all fine in moderation but not so good when the outcome is to delay, defer and depress. 

How is important information shared?

Warning signs… The endless and hierarchical waterfall that slowly cascades down, each time losing a little more meaning and nuance so that by the time the exercise is over, leaders are sick and tired of the whole thing, in fact they’ve already moved on.

How are employees recognised?

Warning signs… If “what for, exactly?” is the first response, then that tells you one thing. Clearly, recognition schemes are many and varied but as a general rule, avoid letting bureaucracy and process drain the life out of what should be a simple and fun thing to do – to acknowledge and thank.

How do big things get done?

Warning signs… Does nobody move unless there’s a signed off project, scope, and deliverables? The question then becomes, how easy is it for the business to adapt and absorb new things? Which leads us on to the last one…

How much time do people spend in meetings reviewing progress?

Warning signs… Some people get double, even triple booked. And ask yourself, what happens in these meetings? What percentage of time is spent on simply monitoring, reviewing and reporting on progress?

Finally, thanks too, to careerrealism.com for two more great questions that can also reveal so much:

  • What would you guess would be the five key words or phrases your (husband/wife/partner) would use to describe your company?
  • What is your favourite day of the work week? And why?

Rising on a word, falling on a syllable : corporate reputation and trust in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer

22 Jan

Crisis of leadershipSlide1 (4)

The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer is out this week – the shorthand summary would be corporate leadership is in crisis – and, as usual, it paints a fascinating global picture of shifting, evolving and fragmenting attitudes to big business and governments and how the nature of ‘trust’ is changing.

Edelman rightly zoom in on the world of financial services, and banks in particular, where, not surprisingly, trust levels have fallen still further (halved in fact, in the UK, and even worse in Ireland), making life harder and harder for companies. Reputation is indeed a fragile construct, as Robert Pattinson’s character says.

Here, then are some reflections on the survey findings, a slideshare presentation of which can be found here.  

Culture eats everything for breakfast

Not just strategy, it seems. It’s fascinating to read that when the informed public were asked what they felt were the biggest causes of recent high profile banking scandals, almost 60% felt it was down to internal factors within the company’s control, rather than external. This is about how things got done in these companies. Notably:

  • Corporate cultures driven by compensation / bonuses (23%)
  • Corporate corruption (25%)
  • Conflicts of interests (11%)

The last one is key, and maybe even drives the others. What we’re talking about here is the realpolitick world of trade-offs where what Peter Scott-Morgan calls the unwritten rules come into play, with a vengeance. For example, serve your boss or your boss’s boss as he/she controls your reward, or forget the customer’s longer term needs, just sell now. Look, for example, to the hot-off-the-press story about the culture at Barclays Wealth, a US arm of the bank, described as one of “revenue at all costs”. Click here for the story. No wonder it’s a crisis of leadership, because yes, cultures are set by leaders and it’s all within their control.

Or, rather, not in their control : there was a fascinating study last year from Deloitte’s “Culture in the Workplace” that reported that while 94% of executives say workplace culture is important (who wouldn’t!), only 19% say their own culture is widely upheld! No wonder the unwritten rules take over.

Managing the conflicts, managing the timeframes

Managing for ‘shareholder value’ creates real conflicts. Even Jack Welch said in 2009, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products”.

Roger Martin, ex- dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto writes about shifting focus back to delighting the customer, and says, “If you take care of customers, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customers don’t benefit”.

To me, it’s also about time frames. A jam-today ‘revenue at all costs’ mindset will inevitably conflict with the customer’s longer-term interests. I’m reminded of a good piece in the Guardian in November last year, “Leaders must stay close to principles of service” by Tim Macartney where he talk about the Iroquois Confederacy of First Nation’s people in the north-east US who, when they take a decision, submit the issue to the principle of seven generations: “Will this decision when translated into action have any kind of harmful outcome on our children seven generations to come?” Tim goes on to say, by way of contrast, “we have constructed a system that doesn’t even consider such questions, instead asking something rather more limited in scope and moral probity: “How will this benefit our shareholders?” And since the leaders of large organisations are often also shareholders, “How will this benefit … me?” And that takes us right back to the unwritten rules (what do I really need to do to keep my boss happy and get paid?) which, in the absence of anything else, become our rules of thumb for navigating the conflicts.  

The (Bob) Diamond of Influence

While not new news, it’s fascinating that credibility as a trusted information source has been shifting away from formal and hierarchical sources – CEOs, PR spokespeople – to experts (assumed to be independent and thus trustworthy) and the more informal sources, ‘people like me’, including the rank and file employees in organisations. The theory being, they really know what it’s like, and are more likely to it tell it like it is. Edelman tells us that “a person like yourself” is now trusted nearly twice as much as a CEO. As Edelman suggests, influence has become  democratized.

So, out with the old and traditional pyramid of influence – a top-down, authority-driven model – and in with the new, the pyramid of community where social activists, passionate consumer advocates and employees are powerful – because authentic – voices.   

BLOG Pyramid slid

Edelman talk about the diamond of influence, see above, the new model for stakeholder interaction and management. I’m not sure it’s a diamond, a pretzel might be more appropriate, as consumers might well be going round the information and engagement loops quite a few times, and consumers and customers now have many more opportunities to amass different viewpoints, and concurrently too. I agree that “this is not a linear process but rather it is dynamic, continual and evolutionary in nature”.  

It’s certainly continual – the research states that nearly 2/3rds of us say we need to hear a message 3-5 times before we believe it. And it’s a message that’s constantly being tested in the public spotlight. One slip and that’s it, back to the long hard slog of rebuilding, and we all have memories like elephants, these days. In fact, more to the point, we don’t need to have memories like elephants, we just need to know how to google.

Can trust be ‘rebuilt’?

There’s a great quote in a Wolff Olins report from last year, ‘Game Changers’ that says, “It’s easier for a trusted brand to become a bank than it is for a bank to become trusted”.

In the just published World Economic Forum Global Agenda Outlook, Michael J. Elliott, President and CEO of ONE USA challenges the notion of rebuilding an ‘old model’ and reinforces the power of informal networks to build trust:

“There has been a breakdown in trust in established institutions. But if we think that the solution is to rebuild trust in those same institutions, we may be missing the signal. Social media is creating new institutions. They may not be corporations, they may not have an HQ, but it is possible that we are finding new informal institutions that enable people to do things together. People today are less influenced by me, or you, or for that matter, by famous people, than by their friends”.

Trust as a leading indicator

An Edelman blog linked to the 2013 results says that trust is a leading indicator unlike reputation, which is the sum of perceptions of past behaviours. I like that. So, what then drives Trust? Here the report gets really interesting in giving us 16 attributes of trust, grouped into five clusters, with “engagement” the most important. See slide.

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 Engagement breaks down into treating customers and employees well, putting their needs first and open and honest communications .Hardly rocket science, in fact much more like good old common sense, but it’s going to take a lot more than simply writing and saying this repeatedly.

 For me, it all comes back to the survey data about the perceived causes of the crises, and the C-word, Culture. It means resolving the conflicts of interest and being very clear about what ultimately drives long term and sustainable business success. In the words of Richard Branson:

“For us, our employees matter most. It just seems common sense to me that, if you start off with a happy, well-motivated workforce, you’re much more likely to have happy customers. And in due course, the resulting profits will make your shareholders happy”.

Less is more and more is less when it comes to corporate strategy

10 Dec
English: Oscar Wilde, three-quarter length por...

Oscar Wilde, credit: Wikipedia)

Great article from Elaine Dundon in Fast Company on Proctor and Gamble’s mission statement, strategic language, and the struggle for meaning. Having worked for 5 years in a corporate strategy team, I can attest to the many hours spent struggling over words, their meaning and their reception.  

The problem with almost all (and here the words tend to become interchangeable; yet more fuzziness!) ‘purposes’, ‘goals’, ‘strategies’, ‘missions’, ‘ambitions’ is that the opposite of the written words is clearly absurd. So, as the author says, in the case of P&G, who wouldn’t sign up to improving lives, making a difference, adding value and so on? (And then again, which company would declare its mission to ‘make as much money as possible, for the least amount of effort, time and cost?’).

The potential dangers that arises from mission statement by committee and the desire to avoid excluding someone’s pet topic are firstly, generic and meaningless catch-all statements, and secondly, as the author suggests, it’s all too easy to over-load the business with activity.

Let me bring Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde (pictured) in here; the former is quoted as saying, “simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple”. The latter wrote, “if I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter”.     

The author goes on to look at the multiple messages and goals at P&G (see article) which all boil down to “do more with less” (no different from practically every corporate strategy these days).

But, that’s hard work isn’t it (yeah, thanks Sherlock). Research from Simplicity Partnership says that 30% of managers are coping with 6 or more strategic initiatives at any one time and that 12% are coping with over 16! And, I heard of one public sector organisation the other day with over 60 key change initiatives!   It’s tough for the workforce to navigate through, and resolve the tensions that exist at the intersections where different directives and priorities meet.

As the author says, “it’s time for P&G to rethink what its one message should be”. While that may be too tall an order (and at the risk of lapsing into consultant-speak), you do have to at least construct a narrative that explains the connections, the dependencies and hierarchy between each message and priority. I wonder which large, long-established companies have truly succeeded in simplifying the myriad of messaging, in order to get More from Less? 

The perils of responsibility without authority. How to make customer experience really work

22 Nov

Good practical messages from a man who bears the scars on how to navigate the minefields in the world of corporate realpolitik..

Step forward Colin Shaw of Beyond Philosophy. As he says, all too often customer experience professionals in corporations are set up to fail, as they are given responsibility without authority.

What follows are seven lessons learned, you sense, the hard way. It’s a good list. What strikes me is the need to wear different hats at different times, for example, psychologist, financier, therapist, showman, politician!

Clearly, you need to be careful and sure of your ground but I particularly like the 3rd point, “Shame them into submission”. The point being, never underestimate the power of a league table. Business folk are by nature competitive, and no one likes to be at the bottom.

Check out the list here. 

Seven secrets of how to manage your Customer Experience.

Leadership and Followership, the 4 minute mile and the dancing guy.

29 Oct

This is about leading…and following. Both important, and both tough.

At a recent customer experience conference, one of the speakers told a great story about the great Roger Bannister, the first person to break the the 4 minute mile in 1954.

Before it happened, everyone said it was an impossible, crazy, outrageous goal, a not-in-my-lifetime type of thing. But then, as soon as he did it, his record lasted a mere 46 days before someone else did it, and then in the following year around 350 people broke the four minute mark.

So, a great story, yes, about bars constantly rising and so on, and it all begins with one person. This reminds800px-Iffley_Road_Track,_Oxford_-_blue_plaque me of that great Dancing Guy film, which is a meditation on leading from the front and the art of followership too.  The tough thing is, someone has to lead, but it is also ‘a tough act to follow’. Someone has to have the guts to get up and join in. 

It’s well worth watching and the commentary from Derek Sivers is a super discourse on the role of followership, “an under-appreciated form of leadership”. Enjoy!

 

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