January 19, 2018

Archives for October 2014

So you survived the recession…

Worried manSo you successfully steered your business through the recession—a significant achievement which no doubt took a lot of courage, determination and energy, and probably involved a fair amount of pain.

You learned a great deal. You established a tight grip. You had good governance.

You’re going to keep these disciplines going. (We may not be out of recession yet, so that’s wise.)

And yet…

You might need something different now, or perhaps more accurately, something else as well.

You might need some innovation and change if you’re not going to be left behind by more adaptable organisations. And if you need some innovation, you might need to loosen up. You might need to create some freedom.

You might need to find a way to balance disorder and order.

Do you know how to do that?

Confusing being busy with moving forward

Bridge to visionIt can feel like we’re working very hard. We probably are working very hard. But are we working on the right things?

We’re responding to all sort of external inputs and handling them well – keeping everybody happy.

For the time being anyway.

From the outside though, it can be clear we’re hardly moving forward at all. We’re really just standing still. Much of what we do may have little lasting significance.

To prepare properly for the future just round the corner, we need to get off the busy-work and pay attention to those tasks which are are probably less well-defined, less immediate, and less insistent.

The ones which will make a difference.

In a harsh world…

There’s no points for being busy.

Only for moving forward.

If it’s only when people are leaving…

People walking awayIf it’s only when people are leaving that they can tell the truth in an organisation, then we have a problem.

And yet that’s often the way it seems to be.

If it’s only when there’s no longer anything at stake that people can be real, then we’re going to suffer from the consequences of ill-informed decisions.

It takes a lot of effort and leadership presence to ensure people feel safe telling the truth—to counteract the fearful nature of human beings. And we need to be ready to hear things which might be painful.

How do you encourage the honesty you need in your organisation?

Not by making people scared, that’s for sure.

W. Edwards Deming said “Wherever there is fear, there will be wrong figures.”

Tesco’s apparently overstated profits seem an obvious example to consider.

Holding back evolution

CD StackSometimes it’s tempting to try and hold back the process of change—we may think we are strong enough to hold it at bay. We may even be successful for a time.

The trouble is…

The forces of evolution will eventually become so powerful that when we finally succumb to them, they may well sweep us away completely—which is more or less what happened to the record companies when electronic file-sharing became an over-whelming force, for example; and also what happens to people in their jobs when they don’t realise the world is moving on.

(Better to adapt ahead of the trend obviously.)

The question of course is how to recognise we are in this position.

Or how to help someone else realise that they are.

Seeing the narrative is part of the answer—telling the story to ourselves, or to another.

If we’re serious about collaboration…

Three people, two shaking handsEveryone seems to want autonomy at the moment—well, perhaps not quite everybody.

The trouble is…

Complete autonomy means no influence.

If we’re serious about collaboration, we have to share power. We have to accept we won’t get our way on everything.

If we want some influence, we might have to give up on some autonomy.

We might even have to give away some power, to gain some influence, though, of course, we’ll want to retain as much of both as possible.

As with many things…

It’s all a balance.

Falling down on the follow-up?

Man thinkingWhere is the weakest link in your process?

For many of us, it’s in our capacity to complete the chunkier action steps which are needed to implement what we agreed at an initial meeting.

Not so easy to get these done when existing tasks are pressing.

Sometimes it helps to set aside an hour to work on one specific action. It’s only an hour, after all—yes, a material fraction of the day, but still just an hour. Our brain can handle that level of diversion without getting anxious. After an hour, we can switch back. Yes, really.

At the same time…

Like many things, it helps to “say it the way we want it,” making what needs to be done seem a more attractive proposition. Something like…

“Completing the follow-through,” perhaps.

How do you avoid falling down on the follow-up?

Dragging it out of them (or us)

Three in discussionIt’s remarkable how damaging it is to a relationship when we have to drag information out of someone—when we sense we aren’t being told everything and our time may be being wasted because we’re trying to solve a problem without all the facts.

Arguably, this was a factor in the resignation of Secret Service director Julia Pearson after security lapses at the White House. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29452829. Confidence may particularly have drained because the whole truth of the incident only gradually emerged.

I’ve had two experiences of this recently…

One of them involves a software business rolling out an inadequately tested upgrade. Ensuing problems were, at first, the customers’ responsibility, it seemed. Eventually, accountability was accepted where it belonged and requests were made for time to resolve the issue—perfectly fine with me, once I knew that I didn’t have to labour over someone else’s problem.

But I’m warier of that company now. That’s the damage.

Another experience involves the publisher of a well-known news magazine that seems to be making economies in delivery timescale for subscribers without really telling them. Contacting customer services is a Kafkaesque experience. Result: Loss of trust.

Are you having to drag the facts out of anyone at the moment?

If so, how do you feel about it?

And what are the implications for when the roles are reversed?

Can they speak the truth?

GatheringIt’s striking how often middle level to senior people in organisations say they doubt the ordinary folk will feel safe speaking frankly about the business and what they see needs attention in front of top management.

Where that sentiment exists—and it’s more the rule than the exception—it’s a reflection of flawed leadership.

One of the things that reticence breeds, of course, is a frustration with senior management and a tendency for some individuals to be excessively critical when, for whatever reason, they do open up. That then is very likely to elicit a crushing response, which reinforces the problem.

Here’s the thing…

Without honesty in the organisation, it can’t really learn and it’s likely eventually to over-reach itself when the decision makers become too insulated from the truth. We can probably all think of prominent corporate examples, past and present, though smaller organisations can be just as afflicted.

It would be more comfortable if everyone had the communication skills and poise to express their point fairly and unemotionally, but not everyone does.


It’s worth enduring the overdone criticism to hear the precious truth within.

Can people speak the truth in your organisation?

Are you sure they can speak the truth to you?

Can you hear it when they do?

How others see us, and what to do about it

Two staff members smilingHow others see us is very important in determining our results and what happens in our lives. Many factors affect that, of course: Our track record and so on.

However, a big part of it is how we see ourselves.

Surprisingly perhaps…

The limiting factor in what we achieve can be our own self-image. If we have a pessimistic view of our capabilities then that will be borne out in reality. Our relative denial of our own power will diminish how others see us and that will make whatever we hope to achieve more difficult. Our self-image will be the primary constraint on our success.

We do tend to hold ourselves back by playing small.

So it’s important to step properly into our own power, our own authority.

Of course, over-confidence is a danger too.

Accurate self-perception is the key to the greatest success. That way, other will see us as we really are, and results will flow from that.

The question is…

How well do you understand your own power? And do you live congruently with it?