Friday, 6 August 2010

Experts are killing innovation

We have seen significant changes in the global marketplace where traditional solutions no longer work and businesses are striving to deal with change in an unprecedented way.

There is no doubt that innovation is perceived as being a high priority business strategy to deal with these changes, however our approach to innovation is in need of a radical overhaul.

blackswan® compiled a structured survey of 5000 senior managers, directors and business leaders across a broad range of industries. The survey investigated how to implement successful business strategies that deliver results. The rationale for launching this survey was the rapid development of exciting, market-based knowledge practices, technologies, and business models that drive outcomes.

A key section in the survey was the identification of what clients felt would be valuable enhancements to the current structures in place that would help them be more effective in enabling their businesses to be more successful in delivering profitable results.

As we stand today, the approach to innovation across business, academia and government is fragmented, disjointed and delivering unsustainable returns. It is impossible to see real progress happening when over 90% of innovation spend is being thrown away in the pursuit of a silver bullet to revive organisational fortunes.

There are three commonly held beliefs about innovation spend that we have found to be invalid.
  1. The centralisation of innovation within organisations (within R&D or to an innovation line of business) can, by itself, significantly affect the bottom line of an organisation.

    R&D spend is delivering a return of less than 10% and has minimal impact on an organisation’s long-term bottom line or its new business development. Centralising activity without fundamentally changing the processes that govern it is doing nothing to increase these ratios.

  2. The current innovation environment is servicing customer needs.

    The current innovation environment is inward looking and not focussed on the wants and needs of customers. We can all point to an organisation like Apple and claim, based on their success, that a secretive, expert-led approach is the future of innovation, but let’s not treat an exception as the basis for a rule. Also let us also not forget that this was an organisation that has imploded more times in recent history than most organisations can handle.

    Where organisations like Apple now stand, there were others like IBM, DEC and Dell. All led the way, all have seen dramatic changes in fortune in the face of changing consumer whims. Want to build a PC from scratch, exactly to your own specification – THAT’S the future. Want to buy it off the shelf, ready to take home, to a predefined specification – THAT’S the future. Well what’s the next future?

    Organisations have become adept at shaping customer expectations in the short term, but disruptive leaps in technology change the landscape quickly, and businesses are unable to cope with the change in customer mood. Slick marketing may go some way to slowing the inevitable customer dissatisfaction, but it will come. And remember, we are now living in a world where we measure these changes with a stopwatch, not a calendar. Can your business react to the tick of a second hand rather than the turning of a page?

  3. Experts in the subject are the best people to manage innovation spend.

    87% of the survey respondents felt that many of the current development organisations, applied research agencies and academic bodies had personal agendas in relation to their domain expertise. Vested interests in pursuing some channels over others were apparent, and there was overwhelming evidence domain experts were often blinded their own capabilities.

    The alternative, an independent innovation standards body, was supported by 76% of the respondents if it could deliver:
  • International capability to establish how business can apply innovation more successfully given their position in the current business life-cycle.
  • Independence from domain experts and service providers
  • Scorecard identification and evaluation of ideas and proposals
  • Capability to transfer the knowledge on how to ‘turbo charge’ good ideas to market
  • Support for businesses to create bullet proof IP
  • A ‘Phoenix’ process for identifying initiatives that should have been funded or that need to be revisited because they were shelved prematurely
  • Key strategic investment insight based on global business evolution trends
  • A managed service for developing, recruiting and placing talent with the required breadth and quality of skills, in the target domain areas at the right time across academia and business

The findings from the blackswan survey clearly outlines that innovation needs to be managed in a more structured manner and removed from domain experts’ control if it is going to produce the results required.

In a situation where 76% of the respondents said they would support an independent institution, blackswan, together with its partners are now examining options as to how we can meet these new challenges.

Friday, 16 July 2010

What Job Descriptions Do Not Tell You about Great Leaders

Smart is an elusive concept. Asking lots of questions builds up our knowledge base. With knowledge comes a certain sharpness; an ability to absorb new facts. Knowledge and curiosity builds a certain creativity that allows you to be effective. Why then do we believe that job descriptions are necessary?

The traditional study of leadership leads one to believe that the role of leaders is to set a course and stick to it whilst standing tall at the helm of their business, following the tried and tested rules of engagement, guiding their teams tirelessly through the storm. Using time-honoured job description methodology, which is often very effective, leaders attempt to keep the organisation stable, predictable and on course. What I cry out is, “Off course, off course is where the innovation and fun begins!”

This very issue strikes panic into the hearts of most of us charged with assuring the sustainability of our businesses. The challenge for leaders is contradictory: manage for stability while at the same time creating chaos that will present new opportunities and innovations. These mutually exclusive and contradictory goals are at the heart of the best organisations. Leaders capable of supporting the invention of new products and services, creating multi-layered networks, and casting off the ballast of withered management practices while carefully retaining the best ones, achieve lasting results. And, since leadership and management are largely non-linear undertakings, these are often uncharted waters with no apparent “one right way” and no absolute formula for success. Great leaders see beyond the horizon, but know they will have to adapt along the course as opportunities and obstacles come into view.

The following ten contradictions are offered only as a starting point in re-thinking a job description for new age leaders; leaders need to do all these things and do all these things together.
•Follow a structured roadmap and know that a roadmap is just a suggestion
•Know the customer does come first and that the customer does come second
•Have a systemised employee base and lose the job descriptions
•Listen to what customers say and pay attention to only 20 percent of customers’ opinions
•Build a corporate culture and stand in contradiction to the corporate culture
•Make it both business and personal
•Apply both/and, not either/or thinking
•Don’t worry what you don’t tolerate, worry about what you do tolerate

Let’s face it, when under pressure to grow, organisations of all kinds look to their roots and their previous successes for answers. Rekindling business growth inside an organisation often represents the toughest challenge to a maturing organisation. Can it regain its entrepreneurial spirit and continue to thrive despite its mature culture?

By turning to intrapreneurs, the company hopes it can have the best of both worlds. Intrapreneurs, by definition, embody the same characteristics as the entrepreneur, conviction, passion, and drive. They tend to be the leaders who have no job description, or the people who know that job descriptions inhibit success and limit thinking.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Can Apple be trusted?

We run a lot of workshops on the subject of trust.  As part of the standard lead in to get people to understand the importance of trust, we run a simple exercise that asks them to choose the most trustworthy company from a list.

Now, I'll readily admit there are some ringers in the list.  We usually place some 'hot topics' in there to keep things interesting, and no-one ever expects Toyota, BP, Enron, or the latest villain of the peace to come out on top, however the winner is surprisingly consistent.... over the last couple of years it's always Apple.

Now, I'm no Apple-basher, not in the slightest.  I like them and am intruiged by the business.  I read a fascinating book about them recently (Return to the Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz) which fuelled the intrigue even further.  I believe they make truly great 'stuff'.  I have an iPod.  I'd like an iPhone.  I'd like a go on an iPad!  But it staggers me the degree of almost 'blind' trust people have in them as a business.

On the last group workshop we ran, I challenged the group who had (once again) put Apple top of the pile.  I'll admit that my main intention was to be combative and ramp up the conversation, but I was genuinely interested to see the reaction.  I'll be interested in what you make of these challenges too.

3 Reasons why we shouldn't trust Apple:

1) We shouldn't trust companies that don't talk to their customers.  Apple talk AT us, with no interest in shaping their products to our needs, rather they shape us to their products.

2) We shouldn't trust companies that don't trust us.  They don't trust us to (truly) choose our own apps, customise our phone, or even change our own batteries.  They don't even trust us to hold our phones correctly!

3) We shouldn't trust companies who don't act with transparency.  Apple have publicly 'embraced' open standards, but then privately created new, closed standards that limit transparency and openness.

So, can Apple really be trusted?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

5 of 5. Why we resist change

Living without change would be inconceivable and unbearable. At the same time few of us would care to go on living in the midst of ceaseless, chaotic, completely unpredictable change.
Hadley Cantril

Change is such a part of our lives, we must either learn to adapt to it or perish. In fact, in order to continue learning we must embrace change, in order to aspire, to progress, to seek perfection and evolve. Change is a natural part of our existence. Change impacts the lives of people and, as such, affects their emotions and insecurities. To implement change requires an appeal to the perceptions of people in terms of how it will improve their livelihood. If the change is misunderstood or if it is perceived as something having an adverse effect on the status quo, it will be steadfastly resisted. However, if a change is pitched properly, not only will people welcome it, they will help implement it for you. People tend to reject change typically for the following reasons:

1. Fear of failure
Resistance to change may be rooted in fear. During periods of change, some people may feel the need to cling to the past because it was a more secure, predictable time. If what they did in the past worked well for them, they may resist changing their behaviour out of fear that they will not achieve as much in the future.

2. Creatures of habit
Doing things in the same routine, predictable manner is comfortable. Asking people to change the way they operate or think is asking them to move outside their comfort zone. "We've always done it this way, so why do we need to change?" becomes the rallying cry for people who have difficulty changing their routines. In some cases, people may ignore or deny the change simply because it requires them to experience something beyond their normal method of operation.

3. No obvious need
Some people may see a change only from the perspective of the impact it has on them and their particular jobs. Not seeing the big picture, they may fail to recognise the positive impact of the change on the organisation as a whole. Thus they may find the change disruptive and totally unnecessary. Their attitude may be, "If things have been working well all this time, why do we need to change?" or, in other words, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

4. Loss of control
Familiar routines help people develop a sense of control over their work environment. They feel they know what works and what doesn't, and this makes them confident about their contribution to the organisation. Being asked to change the way they operate may make people feel powerless and confused.

5. Concern about support system
People operating within predictable routines know their support system will back them up during challenging times. Changing the organisational structures may shake their confidence in their support system. They may worry about working for a new supervisor, with new people or on unfamiliar projects because they fear that if they try and fail, there will be no one there to support them.

6. Closed mind
Some people seem to have the attitude, "Please don't confuse me with any facts or supporting documentation about this change--I've already made up my mind!" People with this attitude approach the change process with their minds firmly made up, muttering, "No way!" during discussions and explanations of the future.

7. Unwillingness to learn
Some people, hesitant to try new routines, express an unwillingness to learn anything new. They may say, "I already know all that I need to know." Like resistant people who have already made up their minds that the change won't be productive, people reluctant to learn something new impede the organisation's growth and adaptation to change. They also hinder their own personal growth and development.

8. Fear that the new way may not be better
If things have been going well, some people may resist change because they fear that the change will not result in improvement. Focusing only on their part of the operation, they fail to realise that change is needed in order for the organisation to stay competitive. They may resist forward movement because they are satisfied with the way things are going. Their current status is quite sufficient, and they wish to maintain business as usual.

9. Fear of the unknown
People may resist change simply because it is something unfamiliar. Not knowing much about the specifics of the change, they may imagine a worst case scenario, which can be very scary. They let fear of the unknown become their rationale for not giving the change a chance. These people may acknowledge that a problem exists and agree that a change might improve it. However, they worry that the proposed change might actually make things worse! Their fear causes them to place roadblocks in the movement toward change.

5. Fear of personal impact
Viewing change from a personal standpoint, some people may respond by asking how the change will benefit them directly. Will it make their job easier? Will they have to work harder? Will the change put their job security in jeopardy? Will the change force them to work with different people or learn a new job?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

4 of 5. How organisations change

Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.

Perhaps the most asked but least answered question in business today is “What can we do to make our business survive and grow?” Or a more interesting question, “How do we engage our people more so that they create the impetus for growth and transformation?” The world is rapidly changing into something too hard to easily predict, with a hundred opportunities and pitfalls passing by every moment. To add to this confusion, there are hundreds, if not thousands of techniques, solutions and methods that claim to help businesses improve productivity, quality and customer satisfaction. A company President, CEO or business owner has so many choices in these buzzwords, whether they be called Total Quality Management, Customer Satisfaction, Re-engineering, Culture Change or Teambuilding. They are like new shoppers in a giant grocery store: they are hungry, but there are so many brands, sizes and varieties you don’t know what to buy. In response to this confusion, many do nothing, often afraid of making the wrong choices. Others change the techniques they use every few months, using the “programme de jour” method of organisational change, otherwise known as MBS (Management by Best Seller). Neither of these responses help the organisation in the long run.

Over 70% of change programmes fail. However if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got. Implementing a different buzzword (Total Quality, Just in Time, Re-engineering, etc.) every few months often creates a “whipsaw” effect that causes mass confusion among your people. These buzzwords are often a hammer in search of a nail, techniques applied with no clear focus as to the why, expected results or return on investment.

Perhaps the most difficult decision to make is at what "level" to start: Organisations normally go through four main changes throughout their growth:

1. Formative Period - This is when a new organisation is just getting started. Although there is a founding vision (the purpose of the organisation), there are no formal definitions. This is just as well because normally there are a lot of experimentation and innovation taking place. These changes of creativity and discovery are needed to overcome obstacles and accomplish breakthroughs.

2. Rapid Growth Period - Direction and coordination are added to the organisation to sustain growth and solidify gains. Change is focused on defining the purpose of the organisation and on the mainstream business.

3. Mature Period - The strong growth curve levels off to the overall pace of the economy. Changes are needed to maintain established markets and assuring maximum gains are achieved.

4. Declining Period - This is the rough ride. For many organisations it means down-sizing and reorganisation. To survive, changes include tough objectives and compassionate implementation. The goal is to get out of the old and into something new. Success in this period means that the four periods start over again.

For some organisations the four periods of growth come and go very rapidly, for others, it may take decades. Failure to follow through with the needed changes in any of the four growth periods means the death of the organisation. Some, such as IBM, do it successfully, others, like ATT, do it quite poorly.

Throughout periods of change, which is just about all the time for a good organisation, leaders need to concentrate on having their people go from change avoidance to change acceptance. There are five steps accompanying change (Conner, 1993)

  • Denial - cannot foresee any major change
  • Anger at others for what they're putting me through
  • Bargaining - work out solutions, keep everyone happy
  • Depression - is it worth it? doubt, need support
  • Acceptance - the reality

This is why a worker's first reaction to change is often to resist it. People get comfortable performing tasks and processes in a particular manner. This comfort provides them with the security that they are the masters of their environment. Some of the things that cause them to fear change include a dislike of a disruption in their lives, looking like a fool by not being able to adapt and learn, their jobs might become harder, and a loss of control.

Of course it was not the change in itself that caused the higher output, but rather an intervening variable. This variable was diagnosed as the employee's attitudes. That is, when you introduce change, each employee's personal history and social situation at work will produce a different attitude towards that change. You cannot see or measure attitudes, but what you can see and measure is the response towards that change: Change + Personal history (nurture) + Social situation (environment) = Attitude + Response

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

3 of 5. Organisations do change

It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.
Machiavelli's, "The Prince" written in 1513

Organisational change is always difficult because behavioural patterns must be completely rearranged. This aspect will result in a tendency to resist change. The question is: how and when do organisations change? Humans can also change in time, but humans also have an 'inner resistance' to change. Like people, organisations cannot constantly change their jobs, divorce and remarry etc, because this would result in an absurd situation or a completely passive attitude. So organisations are actually great supporters of stability. Unfortunately the world around organisations is changing. These changes can sometimes happen slowly, but also very quickly and dramatically. In order to survive, organisations cannot afford to change incrementally because the environment is changing. A situation will then be created of a revolutionary nature. In a short time, organisations will have to change their old habits, activities, norms and values. These organisations are trying to find a new position where they can again reach stability. What has happened is actually a cultural revolution.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of the Sigmoid Curve and forgot its power until I was re-introduced to it by my good friend Bill McAneny. I have since found it very useful in managing various programmes and projects that I have been involved in. The Sigmoid Curve is a mathematical concept which has been widely used to model the natural life cycle of many things, from biological organisms, businesses and companies, marriages and careers. Simplistically it describes the change patterns within many activities that we get involved in, in business and in life. Many businesses, careers and other ventures fail in this first phase because it is so hard to keep going with no tangible reward. We tend to be impatient and if we don’t get some immediate reward for our efforts, we can move on to something else. But the only way to success is to push through this initial phase, to keep going and to know that this persistence will eventually and inevitably move on to phase two of the Sigmoid Curve.

The second section is a sharply rising line in the elongated S shape. During this phase, business and careers move ahead quickly. Revenues increase, relationships mature, promotions occur easily, and organisations become much larger. This is where the crop which was sown is growing and coming to maturity, and every day brings perceptible growth and maturation.

The third phase of the curve is a decline, as the S shape starts to fall. The harvest has grown to maturity and starts to die. Morale and energy dip, revenues decline, the empire starts to crumble. On a personal level, your marriage might start to become jaded or you might wonder if you have chosen the right career or question how you are spending your time.

Successful individuals and organisations are self-reflective and constantly monitor their own position on the Sigmoid Curve. However, to be truly successful is to go even further – it is to jump off the current curve when it is nearing its peak and start on the bottom of another curve. This can be very hard to do, because just as you are reaping the rewards of your work and application, you find yourself at the bottom of another learning curve. This entails more pain, since growth always involves pain to some degree. It doesn’t appear to make sense to change just as you are doing so well, reaping the rewards of your efforts. There is even, perhaps, a sense of loss – why throw away something which is mature and bringing a reward for something untested and new?

Monday, 7 June 2010

SixSigma Kills; Lean Kills Absolutely

Lean and 6Sigma are the polar opposites of innovation. They kill it.

The rest of the world is learning to innovate faster and faster, while Lean and 6Sigma organisations find themselves with world-class revels of waste and variation reduction on products and services that the customer doesn’t want anymore.

The world, accelerated by the recent recession, is entering a phase of continuous innovation. A phase that means non-linear, discontinuous, common-sense-shifting change is beginning to happen on a continual basis. Adopt or stick with Lean/6Sigma in such circumstances and don’t expect to get too many plaudits from your shareholders for too long. They see it too. Both were perfect tools for a continuous improvement world; both kill in a continuous innovation world.  As 3M found out a few years ago when they introduced 6Sigma across the company.

If this weren’t bad enough, both Lean and 6Sigma carry with them a virus that makes recovery almost impossible. Both demand cultures in which massive quantities of data are collected. Gathering data is hard work and one of the strongest traits of doing hard work is we don’t like throwing it away. Or thinking it might be the ‘crackpot rigour’ work of ‘busy fools’. So when someone comes along and defies the common sense and says ‘there is no data’ in the non-linear world of innovation the tendency is to not believe them. In this way, the middle management in your organisation lies at the heart of your forthcoming death. They manage (you told them!) by the numbers.

This is not to say that numbers aren’t important. It is to say that numbers are great for optimization, terrible for innovation. And as a result, because we’re in a period of innovation, there is a need to trust the numbers less and be prepared to challenge common-sense more. There was no data to prove the digital camera would be a success. Or the Dyson vacuum cleaner. They succeeded because they were better solutions to the customer’s real problems and there were no figures to worry about. You were busy stripping out the waste in your filter-bag manufacture line and didn’t want to be distracted. Until eventually, dodo-like, you’d stripped out so much ‘waste’ you were unable to even think about whether you were still doing the right thing.

The heart of the problem is this: Common sense changes. The world operates under the universal rules of the S-curve.

The most important characteristic of the curve is the top portion. What’s happening here is organisations are conducting their ‘continuous improvement’ activities and finding themselves subject to ever decreasing returns. More and more effort goes in; less and less improvement comes out. Do Lean or 6Sigma for anything longer than a year, and you’re already feeling the effect.

The phenomenon wouldn’t be so bad if all your competitors were subject to the same rules. Well, fortunately, most of them are because they’re busy playing the same game you are. Unfortunately, one day along will come a competitor (most likely from outside your industry) and play using a different common-sense. They’re the company who, instead of getting themselves stuck optimizing the current way of doing things, innovated and found a new way. Pretty difficult to sell 35mm film in these days of digital SLR cameras, right?

Neither Lean nor 6Sigma allow for these kinds of common-sense breaking s-curve shifts. In actual fact they positively discourage it.

Imagine the equivalent of the digital camera or Dyson vacuum cleaner happening in your industry. How would you respond? Imagine another, different jump happening again the year after. And the year after that. Will you still be praising your Lean/6Sigma teams? Or will you be thinking to yourself, ‘if only we’d recognised that jumps demand different rules and behaviours?

There’s a final, enormous, problem here, of course. Data rules because data allows us to justify our actions. It’s a brave leader indeed who stands up to their masters and says ‘ the data says we should zig, but we’re going to zag’. In some organisations it is nigh on career suicide. If only there was some data to prove that data kills.

To even suggest that either Lean or 6Sigma are anything other than good things is little short of heresy in most organisations. Pioneers like GE, Motorola and Toyota have been deploying them for many years now with apparent great success. They are far from dead, so how can we justify a claim that says that either methodology kills?

The underlying philosophy of both is that waste and variation are bad things. Who could argue with that common sense? What CEO or COO is going to argue for more waste? Especially having learned that Jack Welch’s GE, for example, ‘saved $9B’ with 6Sigma.

It’s data that says the data is inherently flawed, and it’s called the Halo Effect. Let’s think about Jack Welch’s $9B worth of 6Sigma benefits. Or rather to a Black Belt working in one of Jack’s improvement teams. Jack’s told you that you’re going to do 6Sigma and, the boss always being right, it is absolutely in your interests to prove him right. So you do the project and go back with the numbers to show how much money you just saved. Fantastic. And amazing what a threat to dismiss the bottom 10% performers can do. But you never did any experiment to compare what you just did with any other way of improving things. Frankly speaking a dozen different tools or methods could have delivered exactly the same results. Or better. The point being that dictating use of any tool or method inherently carries with it a Halo Effect that dictates success, irrespective of whether there was any or not. Let’s take that thought one step futher; put yourself in Jack Welch’s shoes for a final moment now. You’ve just invested in training tens of thousands of people inside your organisation and you think you’ve created an enormous competitive advantage. Would you now stand up and tell your competitors how you did it? Or, turning the scenario around the other way, would you realise how much time and money you wasted and think to yourself, gee, wouldn’t it be great if I made my competitors waste the same. Or more. Maybe, in fact, I could hype the benefits to such an extent that I could get them to kill themselves before they see the Halo.

Makes you think doesn’t it?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

2 of 5. How people change

Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.
Lao Tzu

Many organisations develop programmes for change and then start about implementing these programmes. Usually they have snazzy titles and, of course, CEO and top management endorsement. Like good conscripts we salute the flag and implement the change programme very successfully. Wrong; 70% of programmes fail because we forget again and again that people don't resist change, they resist being told they have to or must change. The idea is getting people to choose change rather than solely resist it.

Martin Luther King did not say, "I have a very good plan," he shouted, "I have a dream!" You must provide passion and a strong sense of purpose of the change. Remember there are different ways that change comes about.

• Pain-motivated change
• Change created by being pulled toward new behaviour or ideal
• Response to information and inspiration
• Change forced by a push from someone else or by circumstances
• Change through communication, engagement and understanding

Studies show that people's ability to make a new habit permanent is based on their readiness to change. In fact, people naturally go through several different stages before a new behaviour becomes a habit. These include:

• I have seen these programmes before and they do not work.
• I have not been involved and the change will mean more work without benefit
• I do not trust the change and I will resist
• Let me see it in action and maybe I might join up
• Some people I admire are doing it
• I will test it, but if the words do not match the action I will stop
• I am engaged, trust the change, understand the change and where it is helping me

Feelings are contagious. When someone around you is feeling blue, it can bring you down. Likewise, when someone is passionate about something, it can have an inspiring effect. Build the change so that others want to be part of it. When you give them part of it, also give them the authority and control to act upon it. Share the power so that they do not feel powerless. You want them to feel useful and enthusiastic. Make them feel needed, that the change could not happen without them!

Quick tips from our change programme. In order for people to even contemplate change, they must have the following key elements:

• Those affected must be very aware of the need for the change, its impact on them and its benefit for them.
• The desire for change must be nurtured so that it comes from the inside out, not the outside in!
• Everyone must know the ideal future state and the roadmap journey, whilst having the appropriate skill, knowledge and coaching to make sure they are well equipped for the journey.
• The environment must be one of trust together with risk acceptance so that people can test the change and its impact on them in order to understand the benefits
• There must be constant role model behaviour with a supportive structure to sustain and innovate the change

Thursday, 27 May 2010

1 of 5. Why change?

This is the first blog in a series of 5 on leadership and change.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Harold R. McAlindon (also attributed to Emerson and others)

We all know and accept that today's business world is highly competitive. However the challenge we often have is that knowing and doing for the majority is a step too far. Short term thinking without planning is killing modern business. Yes we need to be adaptable, but adaptable and flexible in a controlled fashion are very, very different to knee jerk decision making. The way to survive is to reshape to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Resistance to change is a dead-end street for you and your organisation. Customers are not only demanding excellent service, they are also demanding more. If you do not supply it, your competitors will. Organisations are reshaping themselves to change quickly in order to meet the needs of their customers. The culture of business is becoming more controlling and less creative. The organisation's top leaders know they cannot throw money at every problem and that they need highly committed and flexible people.

As a leader, you need to emphasise action to make the change as quickly and smoothly as possible. 'Innovate or die'. This mantra has been repeated so many times - by the media, governments, business leaders, business professors, consultants and management gurus - that people have come to assume it is actually true. A light bulb overhead may signal a bright idea in cartoons and comic books, but in today's business world companies can't sit around waiting for creative bolts of inspiration. Long-lasting success requires a process of innovation that is predictable and consistent. However innovation is not an isolated programme of activities. It must be part of the fabric of the organisation and interwoven into each and every activity. Modern economies are being continuously challenged by changes in the global economic landscape. Generation of knowledge and the application of that knowledge leads to the rapid development of products, processes and services. The speed of these developments is being driven by more discerning customers and the increase in global markets.

Economies can no longer compete on wage levels, innovation is the key driver for competitiveness for today's global market.

Innovation in business takes six main forms:
• Leaders who embrace innovation
• People who are encouraged to innovate
• Product - new or improved goods or services
• Process - improved production or delivery
• Organisational - business practices, workplace and external relations
• Marketing - product or service design, packaging, promotion and pricing

Much more on innovation and its methodology and impact in a later blog in this series. However one of the fundamental problems with any new programme or right angle turn is that change is not always welcomed. In fact when you need to change, most organisations have gone past the point where they can change (more on this in the 3rd blog of the series on the Sigmoid Curve). Around 70% of change management projects fail to achieve any results at all. But in these tough times adaptability may be crucial to survival. It seems that if companies want change to happen in their organisation, one of the worst things they can do is call the projects they plan 'change management'. This is the conclusion of a recent McKinsey report that shows 70% of so-called change management programmes fail to deliver many of the results they expect.

In times of prosperity not achieving all change can be tolerated. The problem now, though, is that as the economy enters recession, we will once again see change management take centre stage. Worse still, rescue and realignment projects will not be about tweaking business processes. Change may be the key to a company's very survival. The recession is a punctuation point. Prompt action can save the day, but now everyone has to see the need for change and sign up to it.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Harness culture or lose it

I was recently conducting a coaching session with a leader who has a demanding bureaucracy, who is not good with people, who blames others and who seeks power. I could not help but think about the impact he was having on his business slowing down. I did tell him to stop ‘being the best in the business’ and start ‘being the best for the business’.

I have done a significant amount of work with organisations to understand employee engagement and I often reference entropy as the angst or frustration that has been allowed to build up in the business. We often find four causes of cultural entropy:
•A lack of alignment between the organisational purpose and the individual understanding of that purpose
•A disconnect between the organisation’s values and behaviours as stated by the business leaders and the operating systems within the business
•A difference between the values of the group/teams and some individuals operating within them
•A leadership group that is dysfunctional in their stated values and the way they operate or behave.

We look to measure in many of the tools we use the levels of culture within a business and the cultural climate when assessing the dynamics of potential change and its implications for performance. Here are some of the dynamics we tend to include when assessing culture:
1. Uniformity. All cultures change over time, although the rate of change may not be uniform across (or even within) cultures.

2. Complexity. The direction of such change is always toward greater complexity. At some point--perhaps due to some triggering event--the rate of change (and, hence, the complexity of the culture) will steadily increase.

3. Increase. The complexity of a given culture, combined with the increasing rate of change, will eventually reach a point at which the culture will be unable to sustain itself in a coherent manner.

4. Entropy. The culture, no longer able to function effectively, disintegrates. In the greater scheme of its relations to other cultures, it is no longer able to interact as a unified state.

5. Absorption. The entropic culture's constituents, being human, require a certain amount of social structure or meaning in their lives.

I was reading Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth and I was remembering the passage he uses from Proust “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”. When we describe cultural entropy, we are typically referring to the amount of energy an organisation consumes in meaningless or unproductive work. Cultures can lose energy, too, which is why the Egyptians don't build pyramids any more. We often find that scale plays a very important role in entropy - roughly speaking, the larger a system or institution, the more opportunity for wasted energy. This applies to governments, corporate bureaucracies, large organisations, religious movements, green movements. Part of this is due to the fact that as a system becomes larger, a proportionally greater amount of energy has to be devoted to keeping the system alive rather than doing what the system is meant to be doing.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Groundhog Day Leadership

I was reading articles recently on how to become an effective leader and I came across tips on how to improve my leadership skills. I was particularly struck by the Google search on leadership which found me a 150 million ways to improve my knowledge/skills. If there is that much advice, how come we are not the masters of the art, and why is it that we get it wrong so many times? We have role models. We have authentic leaders, we have transformational leaders, we have charismatic leaders, we have transactional leaders and even in blackswan we have True Leader programmes. I ask myself regularly as someone who teaches the art of leadership, and practices the art in my own business, can leadership be truly taught, are there a set of skills/knowledge that once you grasp it means you can lead? My answer is that we are always looking for fast solutions that change little and cost a lot.

Ask yourself a question: in the history of your business how much has been spent on leadership training, and I will confidently predict that you are no better led today after this significant investment than you were prior to the training. Is this because leadership cannot be taught or leadership is being taught in the wrong way? Or is this because perhaps we are heaping skills and knowledge without the behaviour change onto people who are incapable of absorbing the information or deciphering the data or implementing any actions that have sustainability? I often use the example that leadership training is like putting people into a car with no steering wheel but a lot of power, and then asking them to go really, really fast.

There have been so many programmes on leadership and this is not just confined to the business world. Many of the programmes I see about leadership are largely a matter of technique or a set of skillsets that are being taught. My view is that alongside these programmes we need to embed a sense of urgency, a sense of toughness, a true set of values and beliefs together with the personal wisdom on how to apply them appropriately. These are tough times and we need leaders with passion, conviction, and a willingness to take charge and lead us to a better and more engaged place. I often use the example that leaders lead bullet-filled battle charges without looking back to see if the troops are following. My belief set tells me that if a leader has to confirm loyalty then they are already in trouble.

What we now need is a whole new way to help leaders meet the new business horizon head on, programmes that prepare the mental toughness to form the challenges and the vision and operating style that engages and motivates the organisation in a trusting and authentic way. We now need leaders who are driven to lead to step forward, to take control and to guide organisations through these unchartered and choppy waters. The challenge is that many of our models and most of our experiences are built upon traditional methodologies for a world that no longer exists, and so we drive forward using the rear view mirror to guide us. The ‘next practice’ leadership programmes need to deliver results that create a leadership ethos and capability that has toughness, entrepreneurship, chaos management, innovation and trust at its core.

Too often we love our programmes so much we do them again and again to the same people with slight variations. So we say that this manager has 15 years experience; no he doesn’t - he has one year’s experience 15 times over. And he will continue to have that same year’s experience over and over again - Groundhog Day Management. We can see the results. We witness the damage. Let’s make sure we learn the lessons.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

East Meets West

For an Irishman abroad it’s difficult to go anywhere where there is not an Irish pub to rest and recuperate. The same is true in China. However I am not sure they fully get the Irish thing yet. In my many travels there I have seen the pace of change in China continuing to accelerate.

However as international commerce roars into China, what many investing companies are not recognising is that we are blinded by the enormous population and opportunity and some are not equipping themselves for some serious challenges.

China lacks qualified talent to meet many of the demands of foreign employers. A common misperception about China is that there is a limitless pool of workers from which companies can draw. But the pool doesn’t look quite so full when a company starts searching for key people with high levels of technical expertise in a given industry, management ability, education, language skills or experience working in the global economy. As organisations have experienced in many other emerging markets, this acute talent shortage drives high attrition rates and creates an environment which makes it easy for skilled workers to hop from one job to another.

Over the next few years, global companies in China must change their HR strategies to enable them to keep pace with surging market competition and with changing employee needs and profiles. These are some thoughts from recent travels upon some priorities our clients are grappling with.
• Structuring a Total Rewards Balanced Scorecard
• Building an employer brand which fosters employee engagement
• Creating an HR function with the edge to be innovative and transactional
• Building the next generation of leaders
• Dealing with Talent Segmentation
• Developing HR with regulatory changes in mind
• Aligning engagement and productivity
• Investing in Leadership Trust

Bill Gates was quoted as saying, "The only asset that Microsoft has is human imagination." Where we deal in People Process and Innovation, this is now becoming more and more of a reality.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A lack of rainbow in management

There are people who talk about diversity and ethnicity with a self righteous indignation and I wonder sometimes what drives them. I was at a recent leadership planning meeting with a group of high powered HR people who scared me in their self righteous condemnation and damnation of my view that we are all intrinsically racist and that many of us are now even aware of it. I am shaded by my West of Ireland upbringing where the first time I saw a turban it was worn in a manufacturing unit I was being asked to run in the UK and where my curiosity about all things Punjab first appeared. I was 30. I would love to say that as the father-in-law and grandfather of what some inappropriately call non ethnic Anglo Saxon, that I was not racist. I try very hard not to be. I look to learn and grow in becoming more tolerant and understanding. However my shaped experiences and prejudices are things that I need to constantly unlearn.

In this room of HR the views of an elite, 90% primarily white, audience was that what I was saying, believing and trying to do, was unacceptable in their eyes. We should all start from the premise that there is so much we do not know. There is so much ingrained into my psyche that each day I have to say to myself, “today I will become less racist and I will try to learn more about my prejudices.”

I feel happy for those who can preach from a high moral position and look down and frown upon us lesser mortals whose whole ethos is to get better. They must be so blessed I wish them well.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Leadership values

I was recently asked to do a leadership speech to a group of young adults that were about to start university education and it prompted me to reflect on my studies of leadership models over the past 20 years. I am not sure I know any more today than I did 20 years ago. In particular, I was thinking about my observations around emerging and established leaders. We all know the worth of validated personal values both to the leader and the follower. In a recent experiential development workshop called Horse Whispering, it became so apparent that under even nominal stress, if we don’t have a tightly held set of values then our behaviours are entirely expedient, with no regard to the future effect on the team or their current actions. Current and past learning programmes have not encouraged true self analysis on value sets with a view to understanding that which is core and that which is superficial. Further we have now pushed learners to establish on their value set that which is self directed and that which is other directed. We see that leaders feel they inhabit the world where they are judged solely by results and too often how they achieve those results is entirely situational. If their starting position is that they have no ready access to a set of values in which they believe, they feel they have no option but to embrace the “ends justify means” philosophy which powers result-driven cultures. To go back to the horse whispering story... This was a fascinating programme for me as it challenged me personally in a way that had not happened before, and it provided a very tangible demonstration of areas where I was aware needed work, and that now needed some radical surgery. If you do get the chance to try my advice do!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

New dawn leadership

I was reminded recently of an old boss who currently sits on the board of a FTSE 250 company and how his style was one of the most difficult I have ever had to work with in my career. Now none of us is perfect and our flaws and inadequacies are what make us human and, to be honest, interesting. In my many roles in leadership I have learnt more from my mistakes than from the many books I have read.

Now I get to work with some of the top global leaders and I try to understand what are the key drivers and behaviours that distinguish one from another. One of the key questions I get asked is what makes a good leader in organisational terms. I did have the pleasure of sitting down with a team of counter insurgent leaders who have had the experience of leading small groups behind enemy lines in Iraq. Now I am not advocating the adoption of military style leadership, but it was a fascinating study in how you mould a small group with a high risk dependency, a need for absolute trust and an uncompromising ability to act in a co-ordinated way. The leadership skills are toughness, clarity, trust, alignment, decisiveness and a belief in the team.

Toughness isn't about making noise in a meeting. It's about holding people accountable. That can be done effectively without ever taking away anyone's dignity. Great leaders have to bring about continuous improvement that provide break-through solutions for today’s challenges and an environment of change and innovation that includes what is known and unknown about the future. The ‘new dawn’ leader will need key attributes to allow them shape all our futures:-
• Driven to lead
• Leading without looking
• Push for change
• Operates like a Venture Capitalist
• Harnessing The Power of Culture
• Innovative Beyond Imagination
• Rewriting both the written and unwritten rules
• Globally Wired
• Trust and authenticity at their core.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The realities of trust

It is early morning and I am watching a mother and her baby and thinking of the unbelievable trust bond that exists between them and wondering why, as we grow into adult life, we become less trusting. I listen to politicians and bankers talk about trust and wonder why we do not see predominantly high-trust work relationships? I was recently in a large Japanese car manufacturer, a very big Postal business, and with a bunch of very high powered sales people and all of them were asking, "how do you build trust?". My very simple answer is that you cannot start unless you yourself as an individual, team, leader, business are personally trustworthy. Trust attracts trust. Charles Greene’s “The Trusted Advisor” or Coveys’ “The Speed of Trust” emphasised the importance of trust for achieving organisational success.

They and I maintain that when trust is present, it will significantly enhance the ability to change and supports (radical) change. This is because trust is said to assist in learning, creativity and innovation. Trust is a lubricant for social relations which in turn improve efficiency. We know that the prime organisational regulatory drivers of organisations can be categorised into governmental, organisational, peer, or self regulation. However, we know that the most effective drivers of performance and productivity are self and peer regulation.

The presence of trust, I would argue, reduces the need for detailed contractual and performance monitoring and is, thus, important in governance. If we extend this into more complex environments, detailed contracting and monitoring are often undesirable since they may constrain engagement, motivation, quality, innovation by impacting creativity and initiative. The interactions we have with close friends have a different character from those we have with people we meet socially, people who supply services, or our adversaries. What makes these interactions operate at different levels of trust? Trust is based on credibility, reliability, intimacy, and an acceptance of the need for joined up relationships that are equal in behaviour and commitment. Trust may sometimes not be based on evidence. Indeed, there is a tension between accepting what someone says because of trust, and doing so because one has evidence that what they say is generally true. In the current market environment, where the degree of ambiguity and uncertainty is increasing, with the associated increasing need for change, innovation, learning and risk-taking all of which are enhanced by being in a trust based environment, we must look at the issue of trust in a more deliberate way.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It’s an arty farty world

I was very kindly invited to speak to a group of Art and Culture fundraiser about the Global recession which surprised me, as I was struggling to understand how a Philistine like me could add any value to works of great beauty and joy.

I was very surprised when they asked me to provide some link between Art and Culture and business. Now, being Irish, the spoken word to me is a thing of great beauty, but I did struggle on how I would align this to monuments, to human creativity, culture and unbelievable works of art. As I stood before the audience trying to anchor my presentation in anything that would be meaningful, it did occur to me that art and culture represent to me passion, energy, diversity, edginess, creativity, innovation, risk, trust, inspiration, engagement and culture.

I was then struck by the thought: this is what we expect of our business leaders, and perhaps we have already got the knowledge. One of the most universal craving of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership. The crisis of leadership today is the mediocrity or irresponsibility of so many of those in power, and their total lack of self awareness, thirst for change, with the innovation and creativity to achieve real and lasting change. The fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual.... Without a powerful understanding of arts and culture, we lack many of the fundamentals of what is needed in great leadership. I believe that the arts can teach us a greater appreciation of who we are, and of how we can shape the world around us. To those who educated and enlightened me, I thank them for listening, and I can only hope their enlightenment can be my education.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Coming of Change (but not as we know it).

While reading Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol and the reference to “ORDO AB CHAO”, I was relating this back to my belief that, when things emerge from the chaos, they do so because innovation exists.

To reference Gary Hamel’s quote “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 can’t dodge the bullet. You are going to have to shoot first. You are going to have to out-innovate the innovators”. Today, as we view the business’s environmental challenges, we can realistically say that the World of Business is at a Tipping Point and, unless business leaders adopt the appropriate strategies that will change their perilous course, the forecast is grim. As we look into the future, there is a black hole that will undoubtedly suck a large number of businesses into oblivion and challenge those who remain to deal with change like we have never encountered it before.

We have heard about the need for change, we have listened to educators and futurists telling us about the need to embrace change and to learn how 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 can incrementally manage the transition, and educate ourselves to adapt and reshape. However, I believe many of these scenarios are flawed, and that those who apply innovation and change to their current systems, applications, models and people are building upon the old world thinking and are doomed to failure. My belief is that the chaos theory needs to be applied to our business models and practices to achieve an organisational paradigm that will represent the next step in the collective evolution to the next practice business. I contend that chaos intrapreneurs are the new wave’s crafters of next generation business models. Organisations should adapt and embrace ambiguity and chaos because that's where the room is for innovation.

Let me leave you with the example of Google. What is amazing about a company like Google for example is that it continues to innovate using what is described as a "spaghetti method of product development (toss against wall, see if sticks)”, requiring all engineers to spend at least 20% of their time on new ideas.

Monday, 22 March 2010


In recent conversations with a strategic director for outsourcing at a large IT company , he was sharing war stories on the relationship crises that were occurring with key suppliers. He was quite open in his analysis that the problem was on his side, and that his business did not have the core competencies to manage partners well. As someone who managed a global partnership with them, I could well understand that in their world, partnerships are suppliers, and suppliers are vendors, but both are basically to do as their told. I could not help but remember the saying “When the economy goes well, things go well for lawyers. When the economy goes bad, things go even better for lawyers".

I remember reading about a study of supplier/ automaker relationships in the U. S., Japan, and Korea which examined the extent to which automakers manage their "arms-length" and "partner" suppliers differently. The findings indicated that U.S. automakers have historically managed all of their suppliers in an arms-length fashion, Korean automakers have managed all suppliers as partners, and Japanese automakers have segmented their suppliers and have somewhat different relationships depending on the nature of the component. Only Japanese automakers (Toyota and Nissan) have strategically segmented suppliers in such a way as to realise the benefits of both the arms-length and partner models of supplier management. I would argue that firms should think strategically about supplier management, and perhaps should not have a "one size fits all" strategy for supplier management.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Horse Boy

I am reading Rupert Isaacson's book The Horse Boy while skiing in Val d' Isere and I am struck by the infinite human capacity to overcome challenges and make changes to our circumstances in an extraordinary way.

The Horse Boy is an unbelievable journey for two people who desire to offer a better life to their son who suffers from autism. It portrays the actual link between humans and animals and outlines that the world of autism can sit closer to understanding animals than those of us who are not gifted in this way. I was, in my own way, comparing this to my initial tremendous fear of skiing after my late introduction to the sport resulted in a fairly serious injury and a pathological fear of a set of skis in the most ordinary slopes.

Fighting and overcoming fear is a great achievement. Dreaming of, believing in, being relentless in the pursuit of a goal such as that achieved by Rupert and his wife Kristin for their son Rowan is an inspiration to us all who live ordinary lives and have so much to be thankful for. Rather than looking for something new and different, it should drive us to be thankful everyday for what we have got and allow ourselves to appreciate fully the beauty of the people and the world that surround us!

Thank you for giving an Irishman not born on the slopes to fully comprehend the magnificent world which we live in, and the fun, joy and new found capability of taking a great sport to the edge.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Raise the Umbrella and learn how to keep others dry

I was reading through one of my fellow bloggers sites and reviewed some of the pictures of the decades and could not help but be depressed by the insanity of the world we live in and our ability to inflict pain and suffering on each other. All of us have a responsibility to lift our game both individually and collectively to make this a reality. Now, I am not asking that we all become charismatic in engaging self righteous individuals. I do think we can all take the world a little more seriously and do our bit to increase the human interaction to a much more charitable and forgiving place. I remember reading a quote from Mother Teresa and forgive me if I am not exact on the words, but she did say that she would never join an anti-war rally, but a rally for peace, she would be there every time. I do feel we can shape people thinking by focusing on the positive. My point is not to turn you into a jokemaster, but rather to help you find ways to look at life from a different perspective. So, with that in mind, here are ways to inject some levity into your workplace.

Lampoon hypocrisy. Challenge those who talk not live the talk.
Take the high and mighty down a peg. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Make it safe for people to make light of your shortcomings.
Put up an Umbrella and dance. As a leader, learn how to raise an umbrella so all the crap falls away and you take responsibility for what happens under that umbrella. Keep it light, keep it fun, keep the trust alive.
Point out absurdity. Be the one who people look to, that focuses on truth. Be the one who dreams the dream but people look to be inspired by, not scared of. Look to be the one people follow naturally and instinctively because of the truth and trust you give.

The point is not about working and being committed. It’s about the manner in which you do it, the mindset you bring to it, the engagement you create in other people, and the sense of purpose and humour you bring to it.

As with all things humorous, tread carefully. Avoid jokes that lampoon gender and ethnicity; if you suspect a joke may be taken the wrong way, act on that assumption and don't use it. The point of humour in the workplace is not telling jokes; it is to lighten the mood.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Brain Dead

The last couple of weeks in Australia have educated me on a couple of interesting things. Firstly, the opportunity to have an outdoor life has to be one of life’s great advantages and secondly, how connected the world really is. I have always considered that I am fairly hard wired to work, but the level of sustained effort I was able to maintain on my travels makes me query where the balance comes into play. Do today’s leaders need so much coaching because of the relentless march of the machine connections? Are our lives now entirely ruled by technology that Orwell’s prediction has secretly slipped past us and we are now in this twilight world and nobody has told us? Are we now being morphed into one big machine where the world is one colossal entity being managed by some alien interloper who every so often allows us two weeks off only if we have our blackberry on so that the surveillance and GPS can track us constantly?
Maybe we should take our chips out (not the kind you eat) and say today: now I am going to be me. I am capable of switching off all the phones, TVs, laptops, sat nav etc. and be in touch with no one but myself. Ah, the sense of freedom! But, will my brain be so stressed by the backup of meaningless emails, social network updates, latest x factor voting that it will never be so?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Reading is only One way of Learning about Leadership

I was reading Leadership is a Verb by John Bishop and I happened across the below which is a direct lift from John's site:

“Since so much of what is on the internet about leadership is based on our ability to learn from the written word, I decided to start a search of the websites that specialize in compiling significant videos of thought leaders". Following are a few examples:

TED – Technology, Education and Design - Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.
MIT World Distributed Intelligence - MIT World is a free and open site that provides on demand video of significant public events at MIT. MIT World's video index contains more than 600 videos.
The Leap - Hosted by David Belasco of USC Marshall School of Business to provide “Inspiration, empowerment and a kick in the ass.”
eCorner – Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner - Entrepreneurial thought leaders lecture series that take place every Wednesday during the academic year.
Manager Tools - a weekly podcast talking about new tools and easy techniques you can use to help achieve your management and career objectives.
YouTube EDU/Leadership - dedicated exclusively to videos from the more than 100 schools--ranging from Grand Rapids Community College to Harvard Business School.
iTunesU/Business/Management - More than 170 schools offer content free to the public on Apple's iTunes U, which originated in 2004 as a way for colleges to distribute content privately to their own students. (downside - requires you register for iTunes)
Academic Earth/Entrepreneurship - Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars.

Friday, 5 February 2010

There is no silver bullet in learning Leadership

Is there such a thing as pure Leadership? I was trying to decipher President Obama's Healthcare reforms and listening to the many dissenting voices who were vociferous in their condemnation. If you listen to what Obama says you cannot help but be convinced by the merits of his argument, yet a sizable proportion of Americans are opposed. Now, I understand and appreciate the monetary and commercial realities of the situation, but do we truly believe in the purity of his argument? Or are we shaded by prejudices and experiences to believe that he is a left- wing democrat who will destroy the land of the free by adopting European socialist policies that are good enough for off shore democracy's, but not fit for an economy that is structured on choice, consumerism, a man's right to carry arms and healthcare for those who can afford it.

Call me naive, but I still feel that people generally do things for the right reason. Leaders have to make tough decision. It is a leader's duty and obligation to look to the welfare of all, and that it is a sad indictment of a modern economy that people just cannot afford healthcare. I would also suggest that the American economy needs to reshape, innovate, reset its priorities and adopt a radical programme of change from its current froth of commercialisation, if it is indeed not going to end its reign of one of the world's great economies. That would be a shame, and a dereliction of its responsibilities. The world needs a vibrant America, not the decaying commercial and moral corpse we have today. I hope that the leadership is there to drive the right angle changes. Healthcare is but one step.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Too Many Snouts in the Trough

Is there such a thing as a trustworthy organisation? I ask this question as an organisation is a collection of people, traditions, processes, written and unwritten rules, systems, customers, suppliers and varying voices. When we analyse and segment all these elements, we would say they are all designed for a purpose and the general intent is usually good and honest.

How then, do we find it so hard to trust business, governments and public bodies? Is the greed and avarice of a few capable of blinding and corrupting the many? Surely the Voices of the Employees, the Voices of the Customer and the Voices of the general Leadership are capable of rising up and regulating the minority malcontent and corrupters to comply through peers or self regulation. Why is it that we singularly fail to hold accountable those who breach the trust of the many? Could it be that we secretly aspire to the same breaches and are probably to frightened or coward that it is easy to allow decadence to flourish?

My request to us all, as we once again have made good promises for 2010, is that we include a little aspiration, that we root out the weeds and demonstrate that we will no longer tolerate those who know only too well how to feed off the efforts of others.

Friday, 22 January 2010

I was deeply saddened by the BBC programme Desert Island Disks and the star performer Morrissey . There was nothing positive in anything he had to say and his main focus was on the role death and suicide played in life. I often wonder why people see so little positive in life and fail to embrace the wonderful opportunities that are presented to us. His views that self destruction was honourable was delivered in such a sad way that you had to wonder how individuals in the public eye can be such poor role models. "If you reach 50 and are not at one with yourself then you're in serious trouble," he told the UK BBC Radio 4 programme. He also revealed that he'd had thoughts about suicide and death and his delivery was so morbid I was depressed by it all. I was recently talking to a young employee who had left a previous business to join one of our businesses. She did share with me the 10 years of pain she suffered from a serie of business managers who believed management was telling and correcting.

In his trademark melancholy style, Morrissey told interviewer Kirsty Young that "nothing comforts me". But he appeared to take comfort in being unconventional. "I was considered to be unbalanced, which helped me greatly, because it confirmed everything I knew. I didn't want to grow up to be anything I knew". Morrissey spent much of the interview discussing his aversion to settling down to a conventional life with a partner."I don't want to be any kind of a happy couple with a photograph on the television set. I find it embarrassing. You have to get involved with other people's relatives and great aunt Bessies and all of that and I'd rather not. I'm 50 years old now and a pattern emerges and I accept that and I don't mind at all. I would have to take the bed because going to bed is the highlight of everybody's day … we love to go to sleep. It's the brother of death."

Wow, I am glad I do not live his life! Here is a story that shows me there are still people with many faults who, despite adversity, try and do the right thing.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Are Top Sports People the same as Top CEOs?

In reading the Tiger Woods driving story, you cannot help but wonder how the ruthless drive and ambition that are part of the success of athletes and sports people, can reside so comfortably with a sedate and calm personal life. In order to be great, you must believe you are great. In solitary sports, it is not about teamwork, it is more about self-centred beliefs and ambitions. Do top CEOs need the same application of ego, ambition and drive? Do they need to exclude all others in their self-centred purpose to get to the top?

I was recently coaching a top CEO and, no matter how you analysed him, yes it was a him, he had only one purpose: work. In many of the interactions I have with top people, nobody ever really complains about work/ life balance. Is it that surprising then to see the marriages of top sport performers facing challenges and problems? There can be little room for a partner who wants an equal and fair distribution of attention, and wants their personality, their needs to be equally considered. Now don’t get me wrong, I am no holy Moses telling other people how to live their lives! I just hate those commentators who seem to delight in the misfortune of others. Some of the absolute drivel they pontificate, at times, makes my hair stand on end.

But Tiger, five on the go at one time? I think against my non- judgemental moral compass that this is taking it to the extreme. Tiger obviously considers himself powerful and, like many, believes some rules of reasonable behaviour are not applicable to him. Being powerful and famous means that others are willing to do almost anything for them. They become "intoxicated" by their power. They believe that the rules that govern other people simply don't apply to them - what philosopher Terry Price calls "exceptioning." This is why celebrities and powerful politicians believe that they should "get a pass" when breaking the law or engaging in some other sort of social violation. And this gets reinforced because the devoted followers of the rich, famous, and powerful are all too willing to do whatever it takes to please the powerful person.

Maybe some of our politicians and bankers who like to mix with the sport stars believe they too can behave in a way that is inappropriate and, in many cases, we have just stopped asking is it right or wrong, and just started believing, if it’s not illegal then, what the hell!!!!!!

Friday, 8 January 2010

A Skiing Experience

Skiing in the French Alps is an exhilarating experience with that sense of freedom, rush of wind, element of risk, stretching yourself with different terrain, building your confidence as your learning increases, the application of the right proportion of speed, control, manoeuvrability, adaptability to the underlying surface and that sense of satisfaction as you complete the challenge. For many of us who fall over frequently, pick ourselves up, and apply greater determination!

In skiing, as in life, it's the learning and application of that learning that makes you a better person. If leadership is your game, there is no silver bullet, other than that constant learning and practice.

Monday, 4 January 2010

There is humour in the air.

It is New Year 2010 and the Alps are full of snow, with a mixture of competent and incompetent skiers and boarders hitting the slopes. The sense of freedom, being in the mountains brings, and the fact that emails and blackberry connections have slowed to trickle, make this a special time of the year and a great time for reflection and re -correlation back to your key principals and beliefs.

We have seen in business and in politics in 2009 a complete lack of leadership, with some very serious people talking serious rubbish, a tightening of rules and regulations and a lack of fun in the air. Many leaders fail to understand when people are laughing, they are really listening.

As the Irish in me puts it:
When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay!

No matter what you are doing, great communicators know that a little humour goes a long way toward creating unforgettable messages. Now let’s not get carried away, and feel that by putting one of those silly PowerPoint pictures on a slide, will ever make you look cool.
Humour comes from the inside out. You must feel it, breathe it, and a little laughter at yourself goes a long way.

Here are my New Year wishes for business people and leaders:

o Humour and Comedy drive creativity and innovation: research shows that the addition of a little humour before, during and in closing meetings boosts the commitment of people to the meeting and of course builds more creativity within the meeting. Come on, laugh a little!

o Increase the bottom line results: let’s be honest. We much prefer to be around humorous individuals, and by this I don’t mean silly individuals, I am talking about people who do a serious job with a light touch. These individuals in all research experience higher employee productivity, engagement and retention.Where people are enjoying themselves money is being made!

o Putting a smiling face to the world: today, right now, smile and I bet you will feel better. So come on lift the game by smiling more. Change that daft voice mail and make yourself more humorous even when you are not there. Give us a laugh!

o Let think before we communicate: those blasted email messages, that allow us to say things, make accusations, sound pompous in a way that we would never normally behave. Change your style now. Stop reaching for the blackberry in order to give someone a piece of your mind! Lame, pathetic, and cowardly....Talk to me!

My dream for 2010 is that I can convince 3 people who will convince three people each , who will convince 3 people each etc. to laugh more. We may actually find that the world does not have to be so serious and that there are good Leaders who can make it a better place. I can only offer to do my bit. May 2010 be a bellyful of laughs for you!

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