Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don't Worry be Happy

Well I have decreed to myself that I don't do jetlag. I've decided its mind over matter and I do mind any possibility of time zone fatigue limiting my ability to work effectively with us because the work we do together matters.

The trip to the US was great at many levels. I enjoyed the gig with such amazingly intelligent and enthusiastic people at Thomson Reuters. I revelled in the opportunity to see an extraordinary play on Broadway, Next To Normal which won its female lead Alice Ridley a Tony Award in 2009 (can you imagine a musical with the central theme being mental illness - extraordinary!) and I marvelled first hand at the glorious optimism of New Yorkers and their hopes for economic recovery. We might have imagined the only thing likely to have cheered up any New Yorker during this difficult economic period was the thought that Londoners did it even worse than they did. Yet there they are looking forward to the recovery they know must eventually come.

As always I was interested in what's hot and what's not. The corporate contacts I spoke with were planning for the future, continuing to invest heavily in leadership and specifically change leadership capability, spending big dollars on coaching and mentoring (with executives and other levels) and some innovative work around resilience which is the most prized commodity being talked around right now.

Some enlightened organisations are no longer waging the so-called competitive "war on talent" (i.e. ruthless pursuit of the most talented) but rather strategically building reputations as nurturers of talent to attract and retain as long as possible before other firms derive the benefit when the stars go somewhere else to shine. The difference in strategy from a marketing point of view is that bidding wars for the best reflect a so-called ‘push’ strategy. Developing a reputation such that the best and the brightest beat a path to your door is a subtle but important distinction and reflects a ‘pull’ strategy. A ‘pull’ strategy means we are less likely to "blow the salary cap" in being forced to pay exorbitant market rates for top people and can reduce costs in recruiting. In either case, depth of talent can create ‘social proof’ (see Robert Cialdini’s work on influence) for others contemplating joining the organisation.

How proactive or reactive is your organisation right now in responding to economic pressures? Have you built enough goodwill such that when things improve, your people will want to stay or will key staff fly the coop as soon as they feel they have an effective choice?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I have always felt it is a privilege to facilitate conversations with adults by cultivating a safe open learning space. While I studied long and hard to be a psychologist, I am also proud to be an educator/trainer.

A participant on an interpersonal skills program this week approached me at the end of the course and thanked me for helping him see he had an anger management problem. He asked for some strategies to help him on his way to conquering that "problem." I was somewhat puzzled initially as we had never directly talked about such an issue and would never have done so in the company of twenty other participants. However he went on to explain the work we had done on Emotional Intelligence struck a deep resonant chord in him.  He admitted his wife had said he would "hate the program" when she found out his boss had sent him on it as she thought it would be far too "touchy feely" for him.

Isn't it wonderful and oh so humbling to be reminded of the fact that we cannot presume to know how someone else will react or respond in a given situation and how wonderful to be in the room with people when their insights trigger some real behaviour change for the good.

Have you had such moments? Have you been there when someone had a profound insight they were prepared to act upon? Were they able to follow through?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tough Corporate Lessons in a Tough Sport!

The locals are celebrating this week in the wake of Melbourne Storms’ victory over its New South Wales rival. Most would agree that to appear in four consecutive grand finals and win two as the Storm has now done is an indication of sustained excellence in anyone’s language. It’s worth asking how an organisation sustains exceptional performance in a demanding context. Theirs was a ‘Greenfield’ culture 11 years ago when they began and everything they created was built from the ground up. This was not the case for the team administered by their CEO Brian Waldron before he came to the Storm. Three years ago he was running the St Kilda Football Club; a club marred in the past by controversy, with a reputation as a disco culture in the 80’s and early 90’s and quite lucky according to its former coach, Grant Thomas, to exist after more than a century of dismal finals results. Not every organisation has the luxury of building their culture from scratch. If we take both St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs as examples, one valuable and reassuring lesson for us is that even organisations with long standing underperforming (even torrid) legacy cultures can change.

How do we drive a winning culture?

  1. Organisations must have a clear vision. Their people need to ‘get it’. For footy clubs this might be paraphrased as “winning premierships on a sustained basis” and perhaps also “making our players into better people by the time they leave our Club”. Whilst these visions may also be accompanied by tribal passion, big dollars, high player profile, their formula is compelling as a blueprint for any successful organisation.
  2. Organisations must remember to inspire their people about why the business exists and successfully attach a social or moral cause to strategic goals. People have to connect emotionally with why they do what they do. That is, they need to be ‘moved by it’. Too often leaders dwell on what has to happen i.e. business results and forget to keep spruiking the “why” it matters.
  3. We are seeing more evidence that high performing and professional sporting teams ruthlessly guard good culture and continue to demonstrate they will not tolerate below the line behaviour. Whatever the organisation’s code, their people need to ‘live by it’. It appears that Carlton has made good on its promise to trade Brendan Fevola. Every organisation has their rainmaker, their number one sales person, their talented high profile stars but what price if the organisation continues to tolerate or tacitly condone sexual harassment, bullying, expense rorts or any other form of counterproductive workplace behaviour. What message does it send to clients, suppliers and “players”, when the ends justify any means?
What do vastly different but successful enterprises have in common?

Yes, a football club in any code enjoys important differences to other enterprises. Government agencies and public companies are not trying to ‘win flags’ nor can they easily ‘delist’ players but they are most certainly trying to kick goals, need a diverse team to do that and teamwork, discipline and focus to get there. They also need to manage their brand, attract sponsorship dollars and talent. They need to create the optimal environment for success; enabling critical success factors and removing impediments to that success. Being clear, intentional and consistent about the vision and the expected behaviours to go with it are hallmarks of enlightened organisations serious about sustained success and “premier” reputation.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Now to Lead When the Honeymoon's Over

Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States amid much emotion hope and optimism. If one compares his famous acceptance speech on Election Day with the speech he made on Inauguration Day, the contrast is striking and relevant to all of us who lead change. His “Yes We Can” campaign stirred, inspired and seduced his people and for the record I believe he is authentic in his desire to bring about change in his country and greater peace to the world. However, it was only once he was truly in the chair he spoke of the critical need for people to pull together, to temper their enthusiasm with realism, to contemplate the enormity of the task before them all and remind them it would indeed take much time. Obama knows the importance of Expectations Management.

Some who are inclined to greater cynicism would say he trivialised the challenge until he had won the race. However he had to deploy one of the most fundamental of strategies in early ‘therapy’ for people whose esteem and efficacy was low - the “transfer of optimism” (see Gerard Egan, the father of counselling therapy).

Obama faced staunch public opposition in Congress this week; accused of lying. He responded rather than reacted, a trait of a leader high in Emotional Intelligence yet the opposition was very public and very real. A leader has to be willing to do the hard stuff, despite the discomfort they create and the resistance they may face.
In a world where young people demand low ‘power distance’ between themselves and their bosses and where engagement is prized, how challenging to strike the balance between being a leader and a friend; how critical to manage expectations and not put ourselves continually in a position of having to defend and apologise or backtrack. These are some of the skills of strategic influence and they must be enacted authentically to have any chance of sustained success.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Demanding justice or playing the system?

A young muslim woman in the UK has just been awarded $6000 for being told she had to wear a figure hugging dress to wait in an English bar over summer when the men were not asked to change their uniforms for summer and were able to dress modestly in dark clothes. It was determined the insistence that the women comply with the bar’s “dress code” was “gender specific” and “hostile”. However the article also made mention of a photo taken of the smiling claimant in a “revealing white top” on social networking website Facebook. The clear implication was that the case may have smacked of double standards and opportunism. What are your thoughts? Did the bar violate her dignity and create a “humiliating” environment? Does she have the right to object about the uniform yet choose in her own time to dress according to her own choice?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

People with a Profile - Do we expect too much?

Rashida Dati is the first senior government official appointed in France of North African descent. Dati has attracted considerable attention having just returned to work as French Justice Minister only 5 days after giving birth to her child and being openly single. Feminists in France have slammed her as a poor role model whom they have allege has sold out on other working women and put further pressure on them all to be “supermums, not wimps.”

Should her decision be one of personal choice? If she has the ways and means to be able to return to work after childbirth (which afterall is not a disease or illness), should she? Does she automatically raise the bar for other women and create an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation in employers of other women after childbirth? Is her situation different to the average woman’s who may not have the financial wherewithall to arrange quality child care after the birth of her child/ren? Furthermore, is it reasonable to assume that she returned to work so soon, as asserted by the Planned Parenthood Association because of the pressure to “defend her standing in France’s male-dominated politics” rather than intrinsic dedication to her work?