Friday, 18 December 2009

A Huge Cultural Change in the Black Box of banks

I was recently asked to speak at a Banking workshop in Nice that was hosted to address some of the key challenges facing this sector currently. I was fascinated by the depth of feeling that things needed to change, and the ambiguity about what that change should look like. My take away concerns were that, whilst this sector understood the need for change, it should not be change for change sake, or change build upon bad PR and therefore something needs to be done, or change that is force fed to the affected individual. We need to be very conscious and aware of the existing strengths and weaknesses of the current structure, systems and culture before contemplating what change we would like to see.

Organisations develop cultures because they are made up of different types of people and led by people of varying skills and behaviours. The culture of an organisation reflects its beliefs, its values and its purpose. When leaders fail to evolve and align culture with business strategy, the organisation will evolve a culture by default. I suggest that the banking culture is a common theme underpinning bank performance – both good and bad. Not the only one, but certainly one of the least understood by outside observers. Once a culture is formed it becomes hardened like granite, understanding the levers for change and changing it can be a lengthy and difficult proposition. Therefore, creating and sustaining a vibrant and robust culture should be a very deliberate process. Care should be taken when attempting to change a culture, as it can have dramatic impact— detrimental if not carefully planned and facilitated—on the long term viability of the business enterprise.

Culture tends to be something of a challenge in understanding companies. For all of its implied significance, cultural change tends to rate alongside tarot card reading and astrology in terms of leaders willingness or ability to do something about it. They categorise it as a “soft” issue, something they know they need to address and they have a nagging sense all is not well, and in fact inhibits the business.
In fact, culture is not a “soft” issue. Culture can be explicitly defined, and it generally develops out of tangible (and controllable) actions within a company, not in a murky black box.

To have a strong banking system, there has to be a strong banking culture that is creative and regulated where there is accountability and a tie between risk and reward. This seems very obvious now. This means that the best banks will relate risk in the long-term to the rewards they provide in the short-term. They will also build-in claw back terms to any bonuses paid such that if those bonuses blow-up as high profile risk and losses in the future, they get the cash back.

Monday, 14 December 2009

To tweet or not to tweet?

All the schools in the UK will be waking up late, because of X Factor, but Joe was a worthy winner.” So says Ed Balls' tweet this morning.

The scary thing about modern leadership is, when we try to be all things to all people, then we end up putting insane and senseless garbage in our communication in order to prove that we are young, modern, vibrant. I cannot abide leaders or politicians, who, for the sake of a sound-bite, are prepared to prostitute themselves and allow themselves to speak, when they have nothing of value to say, other than I am in charge so therefore the sound of my voice must be heard.

The best leaders are those who understand the power of communication, that the sense of engagement is critical, and ensure that the message is coherent and relevant, with the presentation being timely and delivered with honesty and purpose. Ed Balls rushing to tweet demonstrates his desire to be in the public space, on a technology platform that is hip for him, but he misses the point that noise is not attractive to everyone!!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Come Fly With Me!

As an Irish person, it is an ingrained part of our psyche that we love and admire all things Irish. I was listening to a programme covering the varying virtues of Virgin and British Airways and I was wondering why, whenever the name Ryanair came up, I cringed. Now the respective leaders of these businesses are from very different schools of style. Virgin’s Richard Branson is entrepreneurial and likeable. BA’s Willie Walsh is corporate and slick. Michael O’Leary is aggressive and in your face. The most successful among them is Ryanair’s O’Leary who has built a formidable reputation and a very successful business. My question to myself is why do I not love and admire a true Irish success story?

When you compare the O’Leary business leadership and his defence of his business model, and his outright aggression to all those who dare to question him, you have to ask why his business is so successful , when all his competitors are slashing costs, trying to mimic his model. Could O’Leary be the role model for the new leadership model that we need to build to take businesses forward in the new world we face? Compare O’Leary, aggressive, in your face, does not give a damn about what you think, low cost service advocator, get them on, get them off, do it my way or else, to a Walsh who is corporate, correct, slick, polished, to a Branson, who is likeable, charming, all about the human touch. Which one would you like to work for? Which company would you like to work for?

Monday, 30 November 2009

Avoid Tunnelling

It was early 2007 and I was passing through Heathrow airport when I first discovered Taleb’s The Black Swan book. I had read Fooled by Randomness and was so enthralled by the concepts articulated therein that I just had to read The Black Swan.

To this date, I am fascinated by how little I know, and the fact that perhaps I could make this work for me. I unashamedly adopted the name blackswan for the business I was involved in setting up, and it has been an eventful, unexpected and learning experience. I have tried in my own small way to create an environment where we create chaos, innovate like crazy, do the opposite to the norm, be intently different, and some wonderful experiences have been created.

The actual rhythm of the business has fluctuated like crazy, but the core trend has been upward in a coiled spiral that had me reaching for Beck and Cowan’s book Spiral Dynamics to see if I could make any sense of it all. Parallel to all of this opposite thinking, I have been heavily involved in understanding the role trust plays in Leadership and in Sales and have followed the work done by Covey (The Speed of Trust) and Greene (The Trusted Advisor).

The application of trust within a business model whose guiding principle is to do the unexpected has created some tensions, a lot of success, and a great deal of fun. I have articulated many times the need for tougher yet more enlightened leaders, who can operate in New Time where the old patterns and shapes are being replaced by new and faster circles, and where we need to operate in more shadows, at more edges, looking into divides and riding more rhythms.

Too often it is certainty we seek, and that luxury is disappearing. Our thinking needs to be more joined up and the application of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’ decision making needs to be inbred to our psyche. My career has been built on focus and drive, and the belief that if you are relentless enough you will achieve the objective. My learnings over the past couple of years are that nothing is certain, be careful of the herd, drive to be different, focus on what you don’t know not what you do know, and unexpected things happen. The outcome for my thinking on Leadership is that we need New Time leaders who embrace the edge, who innovate like crazy, who focus on what they don’t know, apply ‘and’ thinking, harness the power of culture, have trust at their core, rewrite the rules and are disruptive by nature.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Let’s do the right thing, not just what the rules say

As a passionate Irishman and a fervent football supporter, I am aghast at the Thierry Henry incident in the France-Ireland game. Ball to hand/ hand to ball whichever way you look at it, it was the defining moment of the game. The furore it has caused, where it has moved from sport, to politics and to national pride, demonstrates that we still want to trust our heroes, we still want to have role models and we still want people to do the right thing. I could not help but relate back to organisational issues where, often, we have stopped asking: is it right or wrong?; is it legal or illegal?

When we look at the recent examples of MPs expenses in the UK, too often we heard the line "it was within the guidelines", even when paying for a moat or duck house is, to any sane person, wrong. I believe that organisations and leaders must trust. I also believe that we all have a responsibility to do the right thing.

I will not be cheering France on at the World Cup Finals!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Duffy Chaos Intrapreneur

The Duffy Chaos Intrapreneur will, by definition, embody the same characteristics as the Entrepreneur, conviction, passion, and drive.

The Duffy credo for chaos intrapreneur will build business models that tend to be inclusive, multicentric, adaptive and distributive. These chaos intrapreneurs take organisations that are complex, nonlinear dynamic and far from equilibrium systems, whose future performance cannot be predicted by its past or current events or actions, and create a force that allows them to become circular whilst:
1) simultaneously behaving in both an unpredictable (chaotic) and patterned (orderly) fashion;
2) introducing new system practices that can actively change both the unpredictable and orderly in tandem or in silos;
3) working in a manner that reshapes and adapts the business simultaneously to events that are occurring or about to occur.

The new business model will ultimately be strongly cohesive due to its unshakable focus on common purpose and core principles and values. We notice in many of our studies that current business models fail to produce positive results because they fail to understand the pervasive, underlying motivation of every person– the need to experience greater levels of positive energy, the need to feel a sense of engagements and an emotional investment in the business at a deep level. The failure of leaders to understand this basic, innate motivation of every person keeps businesses in a cycle of inefficiency and is the innovation killer.

Organisations that foster a climate where an employee can operate as an intrapreneur will see an increase in personal initiative, effort and resourcefulness. All of your goals can be understood in terms of energy and emotional engagement. This can only can only be achieved by the new leaders that know whilst innovation is the silver bullet, engaged emotional change that embraces the emotional needs of the workforce will achieve the brilliant results that are needed to create real impactful and sustainable change.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Are We All Dancing in Step

The Coming of Change

Somewhere out there is a bullet with your Company’s name on it. Somewhere out there is a competitor, unborn and unknown, that will render your strategy obsolete. You cannot dodge the bullet. You are going to have to shoot first. You are going to have to out-innovate the innovators.

I have used this line in a number of Leadership Innovation Workshops that we have run, and whilst there is a well recognised need that innovation is critical to future survival, there is apathy to the need for the right angle turn leadership needs to commit to in order to make innovation the oxygen of the business.

I was reminded recently, when talking to a large client about their change programme, how flawed our thinking can be when we become insulated and full of self importance within large corporate monoliths. My client who is a very senior player in a big brand UK technology company, released that the investment community felt that breaking their business up would realise greater returns than retaining it as one entity. However as he scenario-planned how to resist that challenge his belief set drove him to conclude that realigning the structure would stave off outside attack whilst forgetting completely that people, their emotions, skill and competence can enhance or derail change in an instant.

As we look into the future there is a black hole that will undoubtedly suck large numbers of businesses into oblivion, and challenge those who remain to deal with change like we have never encountered it before. Change and its impact is something leaders pontificate about, when implementing things that affect others and not them. Change is not something that you do to others, but something that is embraced by all if its impact is to be sustainable and impactful.

However we cannot tell people to embrace and get on board whichever is the latest change programme leaving the station. The last hundred years have seen the evolution of business leadership range from Frederick Taylor's principals of segmenting work into isolated functions, through Deming's continuous quality improvement programmes, to chaos and complexity theory that view organisations as self-evolving and organising learning organisations. We have heard about the need for change. The need for change is used by many as a way of covering for incompetence but that is a story for another day. We have listened to educators and futurists tell us about the need to embrace change and to learn to deal with ambiguity and the speed of change. All of this has been built on the premise that we were anchored in the present and that we could incrementally manage the transition, and educate ourselves to adapt and reshape; these scenarios are flawed, and those who apply innovation and change to their current systems/applications/models and people are building upon old world thinking and are doomed to failure. My belief is that the chaos theory needs to be applied to our current business models/practices to achieve an organisational paradigm that will represent the next step in the collective evolution of next practice business. I contend that chaos intrapreneurs are the new wave crafters of next generation business models. The old definition of an intrapreneur was a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation .

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Great Leaders

I was reading Christian Warren’s Enjoy the Journey where he mentions that great leaders should make a point everyday to enjoy themselves and their surroundings, and I could not help but reflect perhaps the rhino in me needs to ensure that not only am I tough and driven but also taking the time out to enjoy the journey and making everybody’s day better by not only what I am but also by what I am doing.

When a leader is simply moving too fast because they get enthused by the power and the glory, many times they are not considering the unintended consequences of their decisions on the various constituencies who put their trust in them. I have experienced problems which have been made worse by a lack of personal self-awareness. I have preached moving at a faster better smarter way. Perhaps I should have coached in better faster smarter with constituent engagement as a more appropriate solution.

All of this works really well when there is manageable pressure in the system. Our challenge is that the ripple effect of unconscious fast leadership may work in the short run, but wreaks havoc in the long run. I will leave you with the below quote as my thought for the day:

"Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, a dreamer and thinker, understood the value of the imagination. He said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” Einstein called his imagination a “holy curiosity.”"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Too busy being a leader

In a radio programme in the UK I listened to Rabbi Pete Tobias providing a thought for the day.

He referenced the 50th anniversary of the M1 motorway and the new faster pedestrian crossings at Oxford Circus. His point in my mind was that speed to destinations has begun to dominate our lives, and we have forgotten it’s about the journey. I could not help but relate that to a group of senior managers I was meeting this morning whose hunger was for the latest leadership fad, or silver bullet that they could put in their toolkit to impress their team/peers boss etc.

Leadership is a life long journey, and no matter how good we are, there are always things we can learn about ourselves and our behaviours. Leaders should not be all knowing, and should not focus on the speed they can cross the surface, but on ensuring they understand, engage and pay attention to the environment they are in at that moment in time. Too often our horizon has all our attention, and the enjoyment, challenge and innovation opportunities are lost, because we are too busy being leaders.

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