Brokering peace in a bag of ferrets

Why is there so much destructive behaviour in this team?   One of my HR clients memorably described her role in her team as being like ‘brokering peace in a bag of ferrets’. Although the description was extreme, it’s certainly evocative of the tension, arguments and unmanageability of many of the Leadership Teams I come across. Indeed, our research suggests that a huge majority of those in leadership teams think their team doesn’t function effectively. And, if you ask those outside the team how well they think their top team functions, the answers are considerably less favourable! These tensions aren’t always on display, but they are always there. A strong CEO can often keep them in check in the boardroom at least. Even in those cases, the problems will, however, leak out to conversations at the water cooler or behind the closed doors of individual’s offices. Worse still, frustrations can be shared with members of their own team – setting a bad example and producing similar tensions between functions further
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations, Stories and Case Studies, Tools and Techniques and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

The debilitating effects of ‘update-itis’

It’s the scourge of most boardrooms. A virulent and disabling disease that paralyses real progress in organisations. The symptoms are all too familiar. The team gets together for its regular meeting. Hearts are already heavy from seeing the agenda – which is a terrifyingly long list of updates from departments and projects. Each presents the prospect of a long, rambling and often purposeless input from a member of the team – during which most of the rest of the team will switch off. There’s also a clear heirarchy. Finance always comes first and takes longer than it should. Everyone then takes their turn until, if the team gets that far down the agenda, HR get a few minutes to try to get the attention and support of a, by now exhausted, team. It’s a weary and discouraged team who leave the room. The meeting has been a long list of mostly problems and bad news. Some actions have been noted but may issues remain unaddressed. Inevitably, the agenda wasn’t completed.
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Categories: Priority Conversations.

Are You Turning Down A Bonus?

When did you last see a project promising a 50% uplift in results?   I’m guessing it wasn’t recently. If you ever have. Imagine the focus, energy and action that would flow immediately into making that project happen. Even before any results flowed it would be a fantastically exciting and motivating prospect. If you’re the Director proposing it, that would be even better still. If you’re in HR, and seen as marginal to the top team, it would be even more amazing. Every Leadership Team has this opportunity. It’s a big assertion but when we asked leaders and members of teams about the cost of dysfunction in the top team, that was exactly what they told us. Could do (much) better: every Leadership Team underdelivers. The biggest surprise in our research was the discovery that all Leadership Teams, almost without exception, thought they could and should do far better. Even those who classed their current teams as performing well said they felt the organisation could perform 45 per cent better
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Keeping your clevers happy

The importance, and challenge, of leading your ‘clevers’ In the last issue we explored the folly of much of the current thinking on individual leadership. We also explored the importance of ‘clevers’, the high value people with expertise, on whom most organisations are now highly dependent. These people are difficult to lead. They are often:  Unimpressed by hierarchy (they value cleverness more than position) Organisationally savvy (and don’t want to be led) Resistant to feedback (and won’t thank you for doing the right things, either) Hard to replace (and they know it) Bored easily (and ask difficult questions) They expect instant access (to you and to other clever people) How then do you command loyalty in your clevers — and how do you get the best out of them?  The boardroom as your classroom Identifying your clevers isn’t difficult. My guess is that names and faces came quickly to mind even as you were reading the descriptions above. The first place to look is round the boardroom table. Just take a
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Categories: Ambition Conversations, Changing Your Team, Relationship Conversations and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Do you have the ear lobes for leadership?

The problem with clever people I was lucky enough to see Rob Goffee speak recently. Rob is a professor at London Business School and became famous with the publication of his HBR article, and subsequent book, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? He says that thinking about leadership has completely missed the point. I think he’s right. He points out that, in today’s knowledge economy, organisations depend on clever people with expertise (he calls them ‘clevers’) who are often: Unimpressed by hierarchy (they value cleverness more than position) Organisationally savvy (and don’t want to be led) Resistant to feedback (and won’t thank you for doing the right things, either) Hard to replace (and they know it) Bored easily (and ask difficult questions) They expect instant access (to you and to other clever people) In this world, the work of leadership changes. In the old world, leadership was focussed on making individuals more valuable to organisations through concepts like productivity, motivation and engagement. In the new world leaders are faced with the task
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Categories: Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations, Tools and Techniques and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Pain Island to Pleasure Island

When doing my best wasn’t good enough I’ve been working with clients as an external consultant for 10 years. I’ve been helping people in a variety of other internal (and non-professional) capacities for much longer. One of the challenges of doing this is knowing how to respond when a client calls and is sure about what they need. ‘I need an awayday — can you give me a price?’ As I ask questions, it usually becomes clear quite quickly that what they are asking for is not going to solve their problem — or deliver the results that they are seeking. I always used to do my best. I’d ask them lots of questions to help clarify the issues. I’d explain how what they were proposing could be modified to give them better outcomes. More often than not, though, we’d arrive at a few modifications to what they first proposed. I’d put the phone down and know that the agreed solution fell short of what they really needed. What clients know — and
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Relationship Conversations and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Look Behind You!

How can facing out into the organisation be a mistake for HR?    Happy New Year! I hope 2016 brings you success, enjoyment and learning in all that you do. “Look behind you!” I know pantomime season is all but over, but HR professionals would do well to heed the classic refrain. While you’re working incredibly hard to make your people initiatives work, you’ll know that you’re battling all sorts of problems and opposition to their success. Ironically though, the biggest barrier to success is much closer to home than you might think. There’s a paradox for anyone in an HR role. The harder you try to make your HR projects deliver, the less attention you’re likely to be paying to the single biggest determinant of their success of failure. For people interventions to make the change that’s needed, you need the active (and aligned) support of the most senior leaders in the organisation. In short, an ineffective top team is the key barrier to delivering a meaningful people agenda, so
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Delivery Conversations, Learning Conversations, Making the Value Case, Relationship Conversations, Stories and Case Studies and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Gardening with a Chainsaw

When is a weed not a weed? Success in gardening is about getting the right plants in the right place. Experienced gardeners will tell you that there’s no such thing as a weed – only a plant in the wrong place. Most of us have done at least some gardening. We know that if we put a plant in a less than ideal spot then it will struggle. No matter how much water, fertilizer and love we lavish upon it, it will continue to be unhealthy and growth will be stunted. Sooner or later, we’ll have to move it or it’ll probably die. Put the same plant in a location it likes, and things change dramatically. It will grow vigorously and require attention of a different kind. The challenge now becomes to control and manage its growth so that it’s rapid progress doesn’t become a problem. Leaders are equally capricious.  Put any one of your team in the wrong environment and you’ll find yourself investing lots of time – with
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Categories: Relationship Conversations.

Polishing Fish

The futility of New Year’s Resolutions Most of us fall into one of two categories. Some of us still make resolutions at this time of year, with genuine intentions but very little optimism. Others don’t make resolutions, mainly because we know that we almost always fail. I’ve long been puzzled about why you’d choose the first of January over any other date to make changes in your life. Sure, it’s the start of a new year but, if you’re serious about the change then why have you waited until then? More importantly, what makes you think that you can change alone?     Independence Day? None of us are independent entities. Our environment shapes our behaviour, our thoughts and even our beliefs. You’d think differently about smoking, eating or drinking if you were sitting amongst starving refugees in a camp escaping a war zone. It’s an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates the point. Each of us is enmeshed in a web of relationships. These relationships play an important part
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Categories: Changing Your Team and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Leadership lessons in lycra

Why so much pain? It’s July 2011 and my breath is coming in huge rasping gasps.  It’s my first ride with a club and we’ve been cycling close to 20mph for what seems like forever. I am exhausted. My legs are burning. My back is aching. My lungs are ready to burst. It’s been like this for over an hour. Around me are a dozen or so other riders. They seem to be doing much better than me. There are a couple of conspicuous clues to why this might be. The first is that they are all skeletal in comparison to my more portly form. This is made more obvious by the fact that they are all sleekly attired in lycra. I am in a tee shirt, shorts and an ancient helmet. To their amusement, I’m riding in trainers instead of proper shoes clipped into the pedals. I really want to stop – but I can’t bring myself to say so. There don’t seem to be many alternatives. If I take
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Categories: Ambition Conversations, Changing Your Team, Learning Conversations and Stories and Case Studies.